My History with Hip Hop + Big Announcement

The Beginning: Every great love affair has an equally great beginning. Unfortunately, my affair starts with a lot of hate. During the early 1990’s, I straight up hated that crap. I hated the very albums I adore and praise today when they were first released. My siblings and their friends would play it obsessively on the large speakers we had in the front room. Bass was everything. I don’t remember if they ever actually blew out any speakers while doing this, but I know it drove my mom crazy. I know she didn’t want her speakers broken. So I wanted nothing to do with hip hop. It was the genre that broke stuff and caused pain. Nothing that was worth my time.

The Walls Come Down: By the late 1990’s, I had gotten over my initial hate. I had too many friends that liked it and it’s such a silly reason to discount an entire genre. DMX, Master P, 2Pac, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Dr. Dre, Eminem, etc. were now in my life to an extent. I didn’t really seek out hip hop music in high school, but I was okay if it found me. It was a genre on equal footing with the others out there like jazz, pop and rock. By the time college started, hip hop was a regular in my music rotation. My freshman year, I very much enjoyed playing Dr. Dre’s The Chronic 2001 as loud as I could while living in the dorms. Regardless, I still wasn’t anywhere close to where I am now. So where does the story really begin? When did everything change?

The Real Beginning: The end of college is when it all happened. Nothing was ever the same after that night. It the night that Randy K (not his real name) handed me a silver CD-R with the name Oliver Hart, scribbled in black Sharpie, across the top of it. He had been playing it in the car that night, though it was kind of hard to hear since it wasn’t that loud. The point of that winter night was hanging out and talking and not listening to music. So I knew it sounded different and it had potential to be an album that I could like. I was actually much more taken with The Faint album I heard that night, which I also received a copy of. If you haven’t heard their song, Glass Danse, you are seriously missing out. My editor and I played that song a freaking bunch. It’s so infectious. So Oliver Hart kind of fell to the wayside until summer.

How Eye One the Write Too Think: So it turns out that Oliver Hart is actually a Minnesota-based rapper named Eyedea. Hart was just a pseudonym. Eyedea was my baptism into Underground Hip Hop. It lasted a little longer than your average one: three months. While slaving away at my co-op job in a cold research lab, I spent the entire summer listening to The Many Faces of Oliver Hart or How Eye One the Write Too Think on repeat with two other albums. While the two other albums were good, they really ended up serving as filler so I wouldn’t burn myself out on Eyedea’s album. When I wasn’t listening to it, I was waiting for it to come back up on my CD MP3 player.

Going Underground: Eyedea opened up a whole new world for me that, up until that point, I didn’t know was possible in music. His album is more of a philosophical discussion than music. In Step By Step, Eyedea explores the afterlife with two angels: one of them always lies and one of them always tells the truth. He could choose to go with only one of them. Choosing the right one would lead him to heaven and the other would drag him to hell. I’m sure, at this point, everyone is thinking of a certain scene from Labyrinth. Both the movie and the song cover the classic Knights and Knaves logic problem. But Eyedea’s solution to the problem was meant to make you think about it from yet another perspective. The fact that someone could rap a story about a logic problem blew my mind into a million tiny pieces. Bottle Dreams had an equally forceful impact on my views of what could be done with music. The song discusses the story of a young female violin prodigy who spent her life being molested by her father. It’s an incredibly sad song and there was no happy ending for her. Again, I couldn’t believe somebody could rap about such a topic. As unbelievable as the album was, I knew I couldn’t stop there. I needed more.

The Neverending Story: Flash forward over twelve years later and my love of hip hop has only grown stronger. I’ve revisited what was happening in the early 1990’s and I am absolutely grateful that I was alive to witness (even if I wasn’t paying attention as much as I should have been) what was going on in hip hop and the dramatic changes that were happening. Even today, I am astounded by what is going on in hip hop. If you’re still musically stuck in your teenage years and say there is no good music anymore, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you’re just being a lazy f**k. If you want the good s**t, you’re going to have to put some effort into seeking it out. If you do, you end up with hip hop music like dan le sac Vs Scroobius Pip‘s first single, Thou Shalt Always Kill in your life. It’s such a fantastic song. Dan le Sac’s beats are mesmerizing, and Pip’s lyrics are thought-provoking on so many levels. The video itself is incredibly playful visually. Why am I mentioning and focusing on this song? Because it is the reason for what’s going to be happening with Project Lt. Morning for the next 4 months.

The Big Announcement: One of the early decisions about this blog is that nobody would know what album was being reviewed until I published the review. The blog is more about the experience of going through my MP3 player and listening to all of the music than the music itself. This is why posts are titled things like Week 15 instead of the name of the album and why sometimes I end up reviewing horrible albums. However, for the next 15 reviews, I will be listening to some of the greatest albums ever recorded and each one makes an appearance in Thou Shalt Always Kill. In fact, I’m reviewing the albums in order of appearance so everyone can know what I’m reviewing long before I publish it. This is a pretty significant change for me, but like everything with this blog: let’s give it a try and see how it goes.

So without further ado may I present my next experiment for Project Lt. Morning: Just a Band.

PS I’m considering doing a tournament of the 15 albums plus Angles (the album the song, Thou Shalt Always Kill, is from) once all the review are done. Just a simple playoff bracket to figure out which album is the best. I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of 5 star reviews so I wanted to do something to differentiate them. There can be only one.

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Week 37 Review

Mr. Oizo – Analog Worms Attack (1999)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 3.5 out of 5 stars album. The album has perhaps the greatest bonus track in the history of modern music and is considered to be quite influential for the electronic music genre, which is why the score is as high as it is. However, I found myself bored with this album much of the time as the week progressed. It just doesn’t lend itself to listening on repeat for an entire week.

Artist BackgroundMr. Oizo is French electronic musician and director, Quentin Dupieux.  His biggest hit is Flat Beat which features the puppet, Flat Eric. Flat Eric starred in a Levi’s commercial which featured the song. It took another half decade before he would release a follow-up, Moustache (Half a Scissor). I’m actually a way bigger fan of his second album which is a very satisfying listen for me given the overall weirdness of it. It’s like I’ve always said: if you aren’t going to be melodic, you damn well better be interesting. Mr. Oizo continues to put out unique music including The Church which he released in late 2014.

Album Background: Analog Worms Attack is an experimental, instrumental hip hop album with a runtime of about 50 minutes. Given the genre, there is a heavy emphasis on bass throughout the entire album. Mr. Oizo at least had an interesting concept with this album, which was to create the entire album with nothing but analog components. Most notably, he used the analog synthesizer, the Korg MS-20. The MS-20 stopped being produced in 1983 but played a big part in the analog revival of the late 1990’s. Quite a few of my favorite artists use the Korg MS-20 to make their music. Mr. Oizo probably couldn’t have picked a better instrument to work with. The album wasn’t made solely by himself as Feadz did most of the turntable work.

Favorite Track: This has to be the easiest time I’ve ever had picking a favorite track from an album. That song is obviously the bonus track, Flat Beat. This song defined an entire era of my life which was about the first 5 or so years after graduating from college. I didn’t quite have the freedom that I had with college life at the time, but I didn’t have all of the responsibilities and commitments that I have now. In other words, good times. I thumped Flat Beat on a Friday or Saturday with a drink in my hand whether the people I shared a wall with liked it or not. And this song still is my go-to for testing out a newly purchased sub-woofer. So why does this song stand out? The music video definitely helps. It’s so entertaining and filled with so many memorable moments; some of which my friend and I would try our best to recreate IRL. For the best listening experience possible, you want to try to imitate Flat Eric’s head bobbing pattern when listening to the song.

And I’m not the only one to love this song. It was a huge hit. It was included in the Top 5 in fifteen countries and even hit number 1 in  six countries, including the UK. The fact that this was barely a blip in the United States in 1999 doesn’t surprise me. There’s a lot of songs that are big hits internationally but don’t resonate here. What does register with me is the infectious rolling bass line and the playful approach of the rhythmic patterns Mr. Oizo used with this song. It is a must-listen song if you haven’t heard it yet. Seriously, I gave you a link. Watch the video. Let the puppet make you smile.

What Works: 

  • Turntables The scratching done on this album by Feadz was one of the highlights of the album for sure. The thirteenth track, Feadz On, is one of my favorite moments of his. His creative and often delightful technique perfectly complements Mr. Oizo’s often minimalist and repetitive beats. I think if this album would have been more sample heavy with Feadz being a main contributor for every song, this could have easily been one of my all-time favorites.
  • Timing The album is kind of unique in that it has four tracks that are under the two minute mark that aren’t skits. It really helped break up the album which had some tracks that went on entirely too long given how monotonous some of the longer songs were. Feadz On is included in those four tracks.
  • Kidnies Since this album is considered experimental hip hop, I think one of the more interesting experiments on the album is Inside the Kidney Machine. Not only does it feel like the musical equivalent of being inside a kidney machine, it also feels like you’re playing a horror video game that takes place inside a kidney machine. Could this be the main storyline of the next Resident Evil? You don’t even have to pay me, Capcom. I’m giving you this one, free of charge.

What Doesn’t:

  • Build Up I think my biggest problem with a good majority of songs is they don’t really go anywhere. If you have four or five minutes and no lyrics, I think your song needs to slowly build up to something to get and, more importantly, keep my focus. Too many times I found myself asking, “Is that all?”
  • Boring  While I love minimalist graphic design, I rarely find myself as intrigued by minimalist music. It usually just comes off as boring. And that was the case here. Many of the songs just did not have enough going on for me to really enjoy them. And hearing them over and over didn’t help. I’m pretty sure, if I wanted to, I could yada yada nearly the entire album: “I put on my headphones. I turned on Analog Worms Attack. Yada, yada, yada. Flat Beat finally came on.” Yep. That works.

In Conclusion: I’m not telling anyone to not listen to this album. I think it might be worth a look if this is a genre you are interested in. It might even become a favorite album for the right kind of person. There are some hidden gems to be found, such as Monophonic Shit, and Flat Beat is absolutely a must-listen situation. But I don’t think this is going to end up high on the all-time favorites list for your average person since it really doesn’t hold up to repeat listens.

Finally, please check out his official website. It’s seriously retro-rrific! And it has free music to download for the if it’s free it’s me crowd.

Music Video Links:
Mr. Oizo – Flat Beat (Official Video) 

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Amazon Music
Google Play
iTunes
XBOX Music
Spotify

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
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ikipedia Album
Facebook
Twitter
Official Site

Week 34 Review

Insane Clown Posse – The Amazing Jeckel Brothers (1999)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 4.5 out of 5 stars album. Critics seem to love to rip on ICP. I can’t say their points aren’t valid, but for me everything comes together to make the traveling dark carnival an incredibly fun time. At the end of the week, I was still smiling and laughing, so they must be doing something right.

Artist BackgroundThe Insane Clown Posse roots started in the mid-80s but the group didn’t use it’s current name until the early 90s. The band is made up of Joseph Bruce aka Violent J and Joseph Utsler aka Shaggy 2 Dope. The duo builds it music around the imagery and themes of the Dark Carnival. Both the name Insane Clown Posse and the idea of the Dark Carnival actually came from two separate dreams that Violent J had. ICP has a rather controversial history including a major protest of the group when they were signed to Disney records. They’ve also had several run-ins with the law over the span of their career. But despite all this, ICP has continued to build a successful following with each album release.

Album Background: The Amazing Jeckel Brothers continues with the Dark Carnival themes set up by it’s predecessors. This particular album focuses on the 9 circles of hell. The Jeckel Brothers Jack and Jake represent the duality of mankind and the internal struggle between good and evil. I’m not sure you need to know that to enjoy the album, but it does help make sense of the significance of the intro track. The album is 70 minutes long and is a combination of the genres horrorcore, hip hop and rap rock. With this album debuting at number #4, it is the most successful album in their discography. And it should have felt very satisfying for them given the intense amount of hate they received through the attention of the protests against them regarding their previous album, The Great Milenko. In addition to being successful, the album was also a major step toward being treated with more respect within the hip hop world by securing appearances by Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Snoop Dogg on the album. (Snoop just keeps popping back up on my reviews, doesn’t he?)

Favorite Track: Picking the favorite track is sometimes a struggle, but with this album it was an easy pick. Mad Professor checks all the boxes for me. First, the opening skit of the man buying a couch then being bludgeoned to death with a cartoonish-sounding frying pan is hilarious. This is then followed with one of the funniest lines I think I have ever heard delivered in an album skit: “You want my couch?…You can’t have my couch!” Couches are comedy gold for music. Two more people die during the song with additional skits, which nicely breaks up the song’s longer than usual run-time of almost 6 minutes. The song itself makes heavy use of samples from old sci-fi/horror movies, though, I couldn’t find any specific titles used. The heavy sampling and overall sound reminds me of the classic sci-hop album, Dr. Octagonecologyst by Dr. Octagon aka Kool Keith aka Keith Thornton. What really seals the status as favorite track is the ending reveals the song is actually an origin story for ICP as the Mad Professor’s creation is none other than Shaggy 2 Dope.

What Works: 

  • ODB It turns out ODB aka Ol’ Dirty Bastard gave ICP very little to work with for the song Bitches as it amounted essentially to incoherent rambling when they first received his recordings. The duo pressed on, though, and dug through the ramblings to create something that actually worked as verses. They then re-recorded their verses to fit better with the lyrics they scraped together from ODB and thus Bitches was born. The song is incredibly misogynistic but given their starting point, I think they did an admirable job. I also enjoyed them reusing the backing vocals/chanting from the Wu-Tang classic Clan in da Front. ODB is a member of the Wu-Tang Clan for those not familiar with him. Props for the beat used on this song which is very playful.
  • Story Telling ICP are such good story tellers. My favorite track, Mad Professor, is a great example of this. But so is I Want My Shit which tells the incredibly epic and equally silly story of the 200+ year old Violent J who participated in key historical events and hung out with notable figures. Violent J remains immortal until he obtains four cornerstones of the Juggalo mythology which include an oxidized axe, knowledge in the mystical art of voodoo, an overweight female companion whose given name is Bridget and nature’s sweet elixir, Faygo. Faygo is a soda line based in Detroit, Michigan that heavily featured in ICP concerts. ICP has a lot of love for their hometown and makes sure the city is well represented on their albums. In addition to the compelling comedic tale, the rock-oriented beats complement the lyrics quite nicely and help to maintain the aggression of the chorus. Play With Me is another interesting tale from the point of view from a now abandoned toy and its need for revenge on its former child owner.
  • Comedy ICP is funny as hell. In particular, The Shaggy Show, which features real life ska band, Gangster Fun, is filled with numerous moments of hilarity. I especially like the mock commercial for a Player-Hating Degree program. And, although this doesn’t fall under comedy but since we are discussing The Shaggy Show, I have to mention this. I was impressed that ICP decided to reference Violent J’s real-life panic attack that occurred on-stage in 1998 as part of the interview between the two. In addition to some very funny tracks, some of the songs include skits at the end of the song. While all of them are pretty funny, the disgruntled truck driver looking to unload a payload of male masturbators for an ICP show as part of prank call to ICP’s management team made me smile every time I heard it. The prank calls were done by The Jerky Boys and were executed perfectly. There are just so many moment in the album that I can’t help but smile. How these guys got so much hate mail boggles my mind. They do nothing but make me happy.

What Doesn’t:

  • Abrasive I listen to albums on repeat during work but also on my commute. Some of the mornings were particularly brutal due to the over abrasive sound on some of the ICP songs. Bring It On is probably the biggest offender of being overly harsh due to the multi-layered screaming of the chorus. Multiple times I found myself thinking it is way too early in the morning for this kind of music. And I’m the kind of guy who will head bang to AC/DC’s Back in Black on his way to work. So it’s really saying something when I think they need to dial it back for some parts of the album.
  • Length At 70 minutes, I think the album is too long. The second to last track, Echo Side, was actually meant for a different album with a different group that ICP is a sub-set of and I think the album might have better pacing without it. I will say the song is interesting with the inclusion of what I think are backward lyrics but it’s not essential. Overall, I think a lot of the songs would’ve benefited from trimming off some of the excess fat. Quite a few songs go past the 5 minute mark and some run into 6 minutes. Don’t mess with Mad Professor though.

In Conclusion: The Amazing Jeckel Brothers is probably not for everyone. Sadistic rapping clowns that regularly denounce racism, bigotry and child abuse while telling vulgar stories of violence and demonic darkness probably doesn’t have universal appeal. I get that. But I think if you go into it with the right expectations, you’re going to finish the album feeling better off than when you started. ICP has never been and will never be lyrical geniuses. But I do think they are very creative with their Dark Carnival concept and do a wonderful job creating a fun, playful environment with dark gritty overtones. I’m not sure just anyone could pull off the balancing act ICP does, so unlike some others, I have a lot of respect and appreciation for this album.

Music Video Links:
Insane Clown Posse – Another Love Song (Official Video)

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Amazon Music
Google Play
iTunes
XBOX Music
Spotify

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
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ikipedia Album
Facebook
Twitter
Official Site

Week 29 Review

Tech N9ne – All 6’s and 7’s (2011)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 6.76 out of 7 stars album. Tech is a very interesting figure in the world of hip hop and his albums clearly reflect that. All 6’s and 7’s is jam packed to the brim with intense energy and emotion covering an impressive range of topics. You need to listen to it just to hear one of the greatest rappers out there do his thing.

Artist BackgroundTech N9ne is the biggest independent rapper in the world as far as I can tell. He’s sold a million albums by 2008. So he’s doing pretty well. And he co-founded his own label, Strange Music, in 1999 with Travis O’Guin. I imagine he has far more control over and freedom with his albums than many of the other artists out there as a result of this. Tech grew up in Kansas City and makes sure his city is well represented in his music. He’s built a hardcore and devoted following for himself. Tech N9ne is known for his rapid delivery which is just incredible. But I think I appreciate him more for the content of his songs, which tend to be introspective and often philosophical in nature. If he’s questioning something about life, he’s going to let you know.

Album Background: The album, All 6’s and 7’s, is much longer than your average hip hop album at 76 minutes with 18 songs and 6 skits. This album was his first mainstream success as it was his first album to crack the top 5 of the US charts at number 4. This album includes a lot of guest artists including B.o.B., Hopsin, Yelawolf, Snoop Dogg, Jay Rock, Twista, T-Pain, Lil Wayne, E-40, Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar, and a bunch of other people. It’s pretty packed and the well chosen guest rappers are a big part of why this album is as good as it is.

Favorite Track: My favorite track is Am I a Psycho. It was a really close race though; it wins but just barely. The chorus is very memorable and catchy. Tech N9ne, Hopsin and B.o.B. let their imaginations go to a dark place and come up with some clever lines throughout the song. All three of them rap solid verses both in content and delivery. Their approaches to the topic of psychosis are different enough that it keeps your attention for the entire song. I could start listing the lyrics, but I really think you need to hear the song to get a sense of why I like the song so much. It’s definitely not the most technically impressive song on the album, but still very enjoyable because it’s so fun.

What Works: 

  • Four The first four songs on this album (Technicians, Am I a Psycho, He’s a Mental Giant and Worldwide Choppers) plus the two accompanying skits of The Pledge and Military is the greatest opening for any album I’ve ever heard. All of the songs are easily 5 star songs and the intense energy projected during these songs is through the roof. Put them all together and you have something I’m not sure anybody else will ever be able to replicate. For those looking to duplicate it, I found this really cool video put out by the guy who did the beats for Technicians and he explains how every sound used to make the beats was put in there. It’s pretty amazing to see all the work that went into the beat. I wish I had that kind of technical knowledge about making music.
  • Rhythm I know everyone is incredibly impressed with how quick Tech can spit. And I am too. His delivery is instantly recognizable. But I think I’m more impressed with rhythms used in his delivery. While Tech N9ne can go 200 MPH, he also knows how to and when to change it up. I love how he will flip back and forth between very distinct rhythms in his song without missing a beat. Or deliver 10 lines in a row using the same intricate pattern perfectly.
  • Exposure Tech is very much willing to let his fans into his world. In Cult Leader, he talks about the comparisons that have been with him to Jim Jones and David Koresh. I love that he basically trolls those making the comparisons by delivering a very cult like speech to a group of “followers” at the end of the song. O-W-H-H! The songs Delusional, So Lonely, If I Could and Mama Nem discuss some of the difficulties of his life. If I Could talks about the struggles of trying to provide for your family and still be there for them. I can definitely relate to this with all the hours I am putting in at work right now. Mama Nem may seem like your average cliche mother song, but the collection of songs preceding it clearly show Tech is nothing but sincere with his music. Unlike your generic cliche mama song, Tech fills his with numerous specifics that give you a real glimpse into his life and the pain he felt. It’s quite obvious he’s making this song for himself rather than trying to tap into something that he knows everyone would identify with in order to sell more records.

What Doesn’t:

  • Graphic Like really damn graphic descriptions of sexual acts. I honestly don’t have a problem with it. However, I’m not sure everyone is going to be comfortable listening to music with lines like ****** ***** **** * ****** or ******* **** **** ****** ****** *****. I’m going to go as far as to say the songs are really well done and do a fantastic job celebrating sex in its most pure and raw form. And surprisingly, it does so for both genders. In Pornographic, I feel like Tech is talking to one woman in particular and sharing something with her rather than having this feeling of all women being interchangeable. Unfortunately, Snoop Dogg ruins it with his misogynistic verses; very similar to what he was doing in 2001. To counter things like this, Tech dedicates an entire song to pleasuring women properly in the bedroom with Overtime. There’s actually a great part in the song where the rapper hands off the line “pack a stud in your luggage” to Stevie Stone. I don’t know how often trading lines like that happens but I loved it every time I heard it. On top of that, Tech N9ne starts out the collection of sex songs on the album with Kansas City Poet Camile’s graphic ripping apart of a boastful man who didn’t quite live up to his promises. I can’t really repeat any of it but I love how she ends it with “I love you, Tech N9ne! You inspire me!” Like I said, I think the songs are well done, but I think it might be really alienating to some people.

In Conclusion: Tech N9ne’s All 6’s and 7’s is such a great album. Tech deserves all of the praise that he gets. He is incredibly talented and pours so much of himself into his work. If you’ve never listened to him, this is where you should start. If after the first 4 songs you aren’t blown away like I was then you can stop listening and move on. But I think that you’re going to want to make a trip to Strangeland and, like me, never want to leave. And remember: Tech won’t go mainstream. Mainstream will go Tech.

Music Video Links:
Tech N9ne – Am I a Psycho? (feat B.o.B. and Hopsin) (Official Video) 
(I seriously hate this video. It doesn’t even come close to what they could have done with such great lyrics. So incredibly boring.)
Tech N9ne – He’s a Mental Giant (Official Video)
 
(I actually like this video since it’s done in the spirit of one of my favorite book series of all time: The Wizard of Oz.)

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Amazon Music
Google Play
iTunes
XBOX Music
Spotify

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
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ikipedia Album
Facebook
Twitter
Official Site

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 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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Week 16 Review

Blackalicious released A2G EP in 1999.  This Bay Area hip hop duo are part of the positive hip hop sub-genre which focuses on uplifting and spiritual messages rather than violence or materialism.     

Artist: Blackalicious {Timothy Parker aka Gift of Gab; Xavier Mosley aka Chief Xcel}
Album: A2G EP
Year: 1999
Genre: Hip hop
Rating: 4.75/5

Worth Your Time? Even if you’re not into hip hop, A2G is going to surprise and delight you.

Twitter Review: MC Gift of Gab and DJ Chief Xcel made an EP with A2G that is sonically, emotionally and intellectually stimulating at every turn.

 Top 3 Tracks:

  1. Clockwork
  2. Alphabet Aerobics (The Cut Chemist 2½ Minute Workout)
  3. Deception

Things to Look For:

  • Gift of Gab. On the song Clockwork Gift of Gab’s flow on the verses reminds me more of a saxaphone jazz soloist than I think any delivery by any MC I have ever heard.  The way he varies the rhythms, pitch accents and intonation of his words throughout the song feels like a saxophonist carefully selecting the next improvised note of the current chord as their fingers are flying along the instrument’s keys. For example, the lyrics “My house ain’t made of ginger, but it’s made of an array of pages that’ll slay ya like a ninja” is good in its own right. But to hear GoG actually deliver that line elevates it to a new level completely beyond anything you could ever get just by reading the lyrics.
  • Samples. It’s extremely clear that Chief Excel has paid his dues and has an extremely large knowledge of hip hop records, both past and present. Why? The wide variety of sampling happening on the EP is evidence enough.  Particularly in A to G where he samples various artists saying “gift of gab” to finish up the letter G and in Rock the Spot which is packed wall to wall with samples shows his commitment to the craft.
  • Dr. Suess. While it doesn’t have the playfulness and splendid imagination of Dr. Suess, Gift of Gab does an beyond impressive job in A to G and in Alphabet Aerobics as he does a verse featuring words starting with a particular letter for every letter of the alphabet. Have you ever heard anyone doing that before outside of some writing exercise? Probably not. But he not only attempted it but actually pulled it off brilliantly. In the hands of a lesser skilled artist, it could have easily turned into a disaster as the amount of multi-syllable words strung together on these tracks are jaw dropping. Also, the ending of Alphabet Aerobics is one of the best trolls ever on an album as the female narrator asks “Good. Can you say it faster?” as GoG finishes with the letter Z.
  • Think Positive. In the vein of Slick Rick, GoG delivers a parable in Deception to any future artists about the pitfalls of success in the world of hip hop.  In particular, I liked the processing of GoG’s voice as he becomes the narrator for this track. The other particularly positive track is Making Progress which is an inspiring track aimed at the black community to elevate themselves with the required effort despite the struggles they will have to face. Though the target of the song is narrow, I think it contains many universal truths of improving yourself that applies to any person thus valuable to everyone.

Low Points: The weakest track on the album is Back to the Essence which by no means a bad track.  It just doesn’t do much for me as the other tracks on the album. It also contains the only swear word is used on this album which is done by guest MC Lateef. Gift of Gab is known for not cussing on his albums. He’s even been referred to as the anti-Eminem in an article I ready some years ago. So to have Lateef break that up left me a little disappointed. It’s quite possible GoG swears on this album and I’m just missing it. I have two friends who can testify of my ability to miss swear words in a song. Luckily, the college radio didn’t get hit with a fine and nobody got in trouble.

Anything Else: So I think I proved the internet wrong while writing this review. And I would love to hear from you if you think I’m wrong after reading this.  On the song Clockwork there is a fantastic chorus. One part of the chorus contains what I believe to be the lyrics “Master of scratch, if the needle was to slip, then the needle he’ll catch” It is absolutely my favorite part of the chorus. I don’t know why but I loved hearing it every time it came up this week.  So I looked up the lyrics online to make sure I am hearing it correctly and all of the sites say a different set of lyrics “Master of scratching yes is he the one slippin or is he the real captain?” I listened to this part over and over again on my speakers and even my headphones trying to figure out how I could hear something so incredibly different than what’s on every single lyric site I visited.

Eventually, I noticed that another song was popping up when I searched the lyrics that I thought I heard. This song is Marley Marl feat. MC Shan – Marley Marl Scratch which is a classic hip hop song released in 1985. At 44 seconds Marley Marl begins to spell out his name in the song which is a common trope used by many MCs over the years. He raps “The M is for Master of Scratch And if the needle was to slip it’s the needle he’ll catch” which is incredibly close to the lyrics I think I hear. My version is obviously not a common phrase as I could find no other songs besides these two with those lines. And we already know that Chief Xcel has an incredibly wide breadth of music knowledge based on sampling on this album. Doesn’t it seem more likely that Xcel was paying tribute to Marley Marl by using that phrase in the chorus rather than using the phrase listed on the internet that sounds nothing like what I’m hearing? Feel free to listen to the song and give me your opinion. But I think somebody wrote the lyrics wrong in the beginning and that change has been propagated to all of the lyric sites without anybody ever verifying if they were correct. Therefore, the internet is wrong. And I am right. I rest my case.

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