Week 25 Review (End of Summer Blow Up 4)

This week I’m reviewing my favorite hip hop album from 2013: Jarren Benton’s My Grandma’s Basement. It did chart but nowhere near as high as it should have. Actually, anything less than #1 is too low.

My_Grandma's_Basement_Jarren_Benton

Artist: Jarren Benton {Jarren Benton, emcee; Kato aka Christopher Ju, producer}
Album: My Grandma’s Basement
Year: 2013
Genre: Hip Hop
Rating: 5/5

Worth Your Time? Benton has an incredible flow that everyone should familiarize themselves with.

Twitter Review: The combination of Benton and his talented producer Kato make My Grandma’s Basement a fantastic album worthy of many repeat listens.

Top 3 Tracks:

  1. My Grandma’s Basement
  2. Heart Attack
  3. My Adidas

Things to Look For:

  • Benton’s Flow. I love when Jarren raps. I love it. He can spit fire word after word while making it all seem so effortless but he’s smart enough to break it up occasionally with some really interesting rhythms. On PBR & Reefer, Benton starts out with a stutter step for the first couple lines which actually complement the chorus perfectly. Now contrast with his delivery in Life in the Jungle where he’s going at a frantic pace to reflect the intensity of innercity life. I think that Benton is so used to going fast that going slow throws him off. In Dreams, Benton actually has a fairly slow delivery reflective of the subject matter. And this song contains the only moment on the album where I think Jarren isn’t flawless. It’s actually awkward for a fraction of a second. I’m not going to tell you where it is. I want to see if you can pick it out. And it only sticks out to me because he is so amazing everywhere else.
  • Kato! Kato’s name is said in the beginning of nearly every track in one way or another for every track he produced on this album.  And he absolutely deserves the recognition. The first three tracks of the album (Razor Blades & Steak KnivesLife in the Jungle and Don’t Act) are produced by Kato. The beginning  is probably the most consistently enjoyable section of the album in large part thanks to Kato’s big beats. The production of Razor Blades & Steak Knives is particularly impressive thanks to the false ending. The first time I heard it, I thought a new song had actually started but nope. I was still listening to the first track.
  • OMG Hilarious. Even More No Homo (skit) is not the most politically correct skit to laugh at. But George Carlin said even rape can be funny and further explains: “I believe you can joke about anything. It all depends on how you construct the joke. What the exaggeration is…because every joke needs one exaggeration. Every joke needs one thing to be way out of proportion.” And this skit absolutely nails it. My brother and I laughed about this skit for weeks. I think it is hilarious regardless of your outlook on gay rights. Feel free to disagree if you want. But I’m still probably going to keep laughing every time I hear it.
  • Serious Like A Heart Attack. I have to mention Heart Attack. The subject matter is very dark as it describes the brutal murder of an ex after an uncontrollable rage building up inside is finally let loose. Domestic violence is inexcusable, but Jarren does an excellent job communicating his rage to listeners. And thankfully, at least, has an ending with very real consequences with the cops closing down on him shortly after the murder.  The real surprise about this song is the last minute which sounds similar to Pink Floyd’s Great Gig in the Sky. Benton counts several non-rap musicians as primary influences so should I really be surprised to see some Pink Floyd pop up on his album? Probably not.
  • Even More Serious. The best song on the album is My Grandma’s Basement. Why? One reason is because this is one of the few songs on the album where Jarren does not resort to shock value in his verses. Now is probably an appropriate time to bring up that a lot of his delivery and word choice reminds me of Eminem’s Slim Shady LP. Even on Cadillacs & Chevys Jarren says “They say I sound like Eminem.” So I’m not the only one to notice the parallels. I honestly think that Jarren’s wordplay is a bit more inventive. So many times, I was impressed with the way Benton combines and relates ideas in his verses. Many times those ideas were meant to shock but they were impactful on me regardless. But in My Grandma’s Basement he seems to focus on some very real and universal fears about moving your life forward and making something of yourself before you become trapped. I really hope to see less shock and more tracks like this on his next album. I know he is more than capable of it with this track and My Adidas. Equally interesting is the beats used on the track, which make you feel like you too are going to be swallowed up by the basement with Jarren never to be seen again. Those are some seriously claustrophobic beats.

Low Points: While Big Rube Interlude is quite good and sounds like it belongs on a Quentin Tarantino movie with a beautiful trumpet solo, Dreams doesn’t appeal to me as much as the rest of the album. It seems too different from the rest of the tracks. It almost feels like an obligatory slow song more than anything. And with an album runtime of over 70 minutes, I probably wouldn’t have missed it if it was left on the floor of the recording studio. Big Rube, by the way, is known for doing these interludes. He has done them for several artists.

Anything Else: I just wanted to share the song that first introduced me to Jarren Benton. The song is Skitzo and it’s incredibly catchy. It highlights many of the reasons why I instantly fell in love with his music in the first place and it also has a great ending. If I remember correctly, Hopsin (who later signed Benton to Funk Volume) had mentioned it through social media. My brother caught hold of it and then showed it to me. And Skitzo is probably the only single I’ve bought since I got out of college, so that’s saying a lot of how much I wanted it. (I’m more of an album kind of guy if you couldn’t figure that out.) It was featured on a compilation and none of the other tracks really appealed to me so I bought the track by itself. And the rest is history. Now you all need to tune into his new album My Grandma’s Basement. I hope you like it.

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Week 23 Review (End of Summer Blow Up 2)

This week I’m reviewing Mike Pinto’s Little District which came out in 2005 for End of Summer Blow Up. Though I was only recently introduced to his music, he is absolutely deserving of a bigger following.

5

Artist: Mike Pinto
Album: Little District
Year: 2005
Genre: Reggae, Ska
Rating: 4.5/5

Worth Your Time? Absolutely. This album is jam packed with memorable lyrics and melodies and has a nice blend of several genres and instruments to keep things fresh.

Twitter Review: Mike Pinto writes incredibly heartfelt and insightful lyrics. And he has both the singing voice and guitar skills to be a complete package.

Top 3 Tracks:

  1. Bill’s Song
  2. When I Die
  3. Chilean Lover

Things to Look For:

  • Epic First Track. The album starts out with the story of Bill, worshiper of the almighty dollar, who is a bank robber. The production of Bill’s Song had me smiling every time the album started over. Not only do you have Mike’s clever writing but the little touches on this song really put it over the top for me. If you really want to appreciate this song I’m begging you to listen with headphones. Why? Because half of the stereo mix is used for letting you listen in on the bank robbery in progress. It sounds fantastic on headphones. My favorite part is when the upbeat trumpet solo starts and the music goes into high gear with the sirens blaring as the cops head toward the bank. It creates a momentary sense of urgency that I’m sure Bill was also feeling. I also love the line “Put your hands up! Put your fucking hands up!” because it works equally well with a bank robbery and at a concert. Finally, the ending was unexpected for me. Very different from say the classic Children’s Story by Slick Rick.
  • Point/Counterpoint. Mike has two songs on here that cover the topic of adultery. The first song Dear Señoritas which blames a husband’s cheating squarely on the woman for not providing loving “three times a day” which apparently is the bare minimum for any guy. I really don’t think Mike believes this but rather he is just telling a story. Possibly based on someone he’s met in his life either in Philadelphia or San Diego.  Where this gets interesting for me is three tracks later he starts telling another story of adultery in Chilean Lover. This song tells the story of a husband and father who constantly cheats on his wife but ends up with a bullet inside his brain from a scorned ex-lover. And as Mike put it: “You’re gonna get what you deserve.” So both sides of the coin I think are well presented here.
  • Genre Blending. While Mike lives mostly in reggae and ska, he transitions into an almost industrial sounding song with When I Die. The song is quite a brilliant take on the topic of the existence of an afterlife. It starts out with a very minimalistic acoustic opening of just Mike and his guitar.  Eventually this turns into this driving industrial beat that relentlessly comes at the listener. Perhaps the transition is a metaphor for how the question becomes more important in life as we follow our own slow but inevitable march towards an ultimate demise? Or maybe not. I just know I loved the song.
  • That One Night. Despite One More Time (radio edit) making me think back fondly to my college days with fabulous heartfelt lyrics, the over-processed vocals on the song’s chorus make me think of the infamous That One Night song from the Dinner Party episode from The Office with Jan’s incredibly awkward dancing. Rest of the song is actually quite beautiful and really captures the magic that is friendship.

Low Points: This is a fantastic album with gorgeous lyrics, stunning guitar work and a brass section that just won’t quit all the while covering some impressively deep topics. There’s nothing bad to say about it, right? Well, not quite. How about we skip to the hidden track found about two minutes after One More Time (full version) is finished? It actually resumes the really funky beat found in Dub Interlude. It even finishes the lyrics that Dub Interlude unexpectedly stops at. That’s a pretty cool idea. So how does the rest of the song go? “Shove my lyrics down your throat like my dick, like my dick” Woah. Back it up. Back it up. Beep. Beep . Beep. What the hell did I just listen to? Um, that was unexpected. I’m not sure what Mike was going for with the hidden track but I’m not totally digging it besides the incredibly groovy beat. To me, it just doesn’t fit. Or maybe I’m just pissed because that hidden track meant two minutes of silence before I could finish the album and start it over.

Anything Else: I don’t really have anything else to say. Mike seems like a cool guy. Apparently, he’s big in Japan. So that’s kind of interesting and unexpected. Not dick down your throat unexpected but still unexpected. From what I understand, he is freaking amazing live so catching one of his concerts would be highly suggested if you get the chance. And like one of my friends, he grew up in the midwest (Mike grew up in Philadelphia, PA) and moved to beautiful San Diego, CA where he did some amazing things with his life with more to come I’m sure. So maybe that’s not interesting to you, but the parallelism was interesting to me.

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Week 22 Review (End of Summer Blow Up 1)

Rhymesayers hip hop artist, Grieves, is the reason End of Summer Blow Up was started. To start it off, I’m reviewing his latest album, Winter & the Wolves. Grieves has been releasing albums since 2007.

Artist: Grieves { Benjamin Laub aka Grieves, Brad Lewis aka B. Lewis}
Album: Winter & the Wolves [Deluxe Version]
Year: 2014
Genre: Hip-hop
Rating: 4.5/5

Worth Your Time? Absolutely. Don’t you want to say you listened to him before he got big? Feed your little inner-hipster and listen to this indie rapper.

Twitter Review: Grieves’ razor sharp wordplay will slice you wide open as B. Lewis backs him up with intricate but highly accessible beats.

Note: I am using Grooveshark for everything except where Grieves has an official video on YouTube.

Top 3 Tracks:

  1. How’s It Gonna Go
  2. Recluse
  3. Woah is Me

Things to Look For:

  • Fantastic Opening Line. After the chorus opens Woah is Me, Grieves starts out with “My dog died.” and a voice answers back “When you were six!” Grieves replies “Really? I guess I never gotten over it.” After listening to a couple songs, in recent memory, where the musician composes beautiful songs about their pet, Grieves approach comes off as the antistasis of that. It made me smile every time I heard it.
  • Poet First, Emcee Second. Okay, so he probably didn’t start out writing poetry. Or maybe he did. I don’t know. But I do know from listening to this album that Grieves is working on a higher level than your typical rapper. His word choices are potent. He can take the word ‘shit’ and make it sound so harsh and crass because of the words he surrounds around it. In How’s It Gonna Go, after opening with a beautiful and heartfelt chorus, Grieves lays “Until the woman of my dreams took a shit inside my soul” on us and it comes across as shocking because of the vulgarity. I was actually taken back the first time I heard it. In the same song, he delivers another one of my favorite lines “This ain’t love, this is two people fucking…each other over.” Here he creates a multi-layered lyric that captures both the concept of making love vs. having sex and the notion of negative relationship doomed for failure. And it’s all done with a simple pause. In Kidding Me, he says “Cinderella got drunk started spreading her thighs” which takes this pure and innocent idea in your head and absolutely obliterates it. It’s beautiful. His poetic skillset combined with his compelling storytelling, make for an awesome combination that rarely fails to deliver.
  • Repetition. Grieves skillfully makes use of repetition throughout the album. He does this both in the words he chooses and the cadence of his delivery. In Serpents, the first and second verse are identical in structure and delivery despite being a completely different set of words. Supposedly, this song is about Grieves dealing with his sister’s drug addiction. The topic of drug addiction has been covered countless times in music but I don’t know if anybody has done it so masterfully as Grieves has done here. I had my own little Keanu moment when I realized what was going on.
  • Pop Friendly. Grieves’ previous albums were done with long time friend, Budo. Budo’s beats were definitely unique and created this wonderful smoke-filled blues bar atmosphere that I loved, but I think they were too laid back for your average listener. By teaming up with B. Lewis, the album becomes infinitely more accessible due to Lewis’ new, more poppier style. In fact, all three of the top songs made the list because the beat put them ahead of the other tracks. I usually get annoyed when an artist goes pop, but I’m incredibly excited about whatever Grieves and Lewis end up doing next.
  • Anti-Bruno Mars. Recluse is quite similar to the popular The Lazy Song in terms of high level concept but Grieves’ takes it to a far darker and grittier place. He is letting you inside of his head as he tries desperately to shut out his world regardless of the path of destruction it ends up leaving. After listening to Recluse, The Lazy Song seems incredibly shallow in comparison. It’s still a fun song though. You know you secretly sing it in the shower. Or was that me?

Low Points: I’ve probably already hammered the point home that I love that this album because it is more accessible than his past ones. But think it would gain an even wider audience if it was a bit shorter. While listening to it, I noticed some common themes between songs and I think I would rather have had him cut out the the similar songs and went with a less is more kind of approach. Perhaps this feeling could have been avoided, if I didn’t listen to the deluxe version which had two bonus songs on it. It remains a fantastic album regardless. I left out a ton of songs I wanted to talk about.

Anything Else: Grieve’s previous album, Together/Apart, is actually the great grand-daddy of all Project Lt. Morning albums. I spent the majority of my weekends one summer pulling out weeds from the yard by hand. While pulling weeds, I listened to that album on repeat for 3-4 hours at a stretch. The music combined with the repetitious work created an almost meditative state for me. It was probably the only time in my life I looked forward to yard work.

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