01 February 2019

REVIEW | Black Thought - Streams of Thought Vol. 2

Ask and you shall receive. When I posted my Streams of Thought Vol 1 review over the summer, I ended it by saying that I hoped we'd get a volume two soon. The Monday after Thanksgiving, Black Thought blessed us with just that. Streams of Thought Vol 2 continues his assault on the throne as he appears to be on mission to solidify his place on the god emcee tier. After his success with the 9th Wonder assist for the first EP, I was very curious as to who Thought would collab with to follow up his Streams of Thought series. My top producer picks were: Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Large Professor, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and the Alchemist. I think Pete Rock, Preem, and Extra P were "safe" bets. PR and Preem already have tracks with Black Thought. So we know that would have been a home run. Don't think Large Pro linked up with Black Thought, but not 100 on that. But you know it would have been a solid pairing. Jazzy Jeff would have given us that Philly connection. I know they've been on stage together, but don't think they have a studio joint together. Alchemist was the wild card. I was not aware that they had a track together when I started this review. But the ALC single "Roman Candles" has Black Thought on it, among other features. That joint dropped late last year, and that joint BANGS. But no dice. No points awarded to house BITM. Black Thought went ahead and hit my set with the big joker. With Salaam. Fucking. Remi. What a pick! It is one of those picks, that after you hear it you go "of course." So my typical "this works on paper but did it actually work?" review question is null and void. Now the only question is, "will this emcee/producer pairing of Black Thought and Salaam Remi be better than the Vol 1 pairing of Black Thought and 9th Wonder?" What a great moment in Hip Hop. Let's go.

For the Streams of Thought sequel, Thought almost doubles the track count from five (Vol 1) to nine (Vol 2). The intro, "Fentanyl," really sets the stage for the uninitiated. The Roots, Black Thought, and Salaam Remi fans knew the intro was going to go hard (pause). Maybe not like this though. Remi showed great restraint by providing a very minimal instrumental. The gritty drum and guitar heavy track allowed Black Thought to flow with zero restrictions. In a single verse, Thought drops an intense allegory using the opioid crisis to create an amazing parallel. We've all heard the "my flow is so dope you should smoke me" verse in some way or another. "Fentanyl" takes that idea/verse and turns it into a fully conceptualized theme/track. In an array of poetically graphic bars, Thought presents this drug use through a very unromanticized lens. Toward the end of the verse, after this deglamorized foundation is set, Thought compares his flow to fentanyl. If you are reading this, I know that the reveal isn't really shocking. Again, we've all heard rappers use drugs as a metaphoric link to their flows. But the intellectual approach in this track (and MANY Black Thought tracks), is what elevates Thought to a different level. Great way to start the project.

The following songs like "Soundtrack to Confusion" and "Get Outlined" give us Golden Era-breaks and drum loops that create a smooth transition from track to track. "History Unfolds" is probably the first instrumental that raises the energy a bit. Secondary instruments are less muted and each layer stands out more versus the previous minimal tracks. Black Thought uses historical references to emphasize his skill set and his place in the history of Hip Hop. "How to Hold a Choppa" sonically slows the beat down again, but this time with a jazz influenced beat. Black Thought's class is in session as he dives into incredibly deep and complex anecdotal bars touching on morally partisan perspectives. Back on his braggadocio shit with the next track, "The New Grit," allows Thought to attack the track with reckless abandonment. This is first Remi track on the project that had my face stuck in stank face mode. Or I should say that had my hype meter all the way up. You definitely want your bass on eleven for this one. "Long Liveth" is another percussion heavy track that Thought uses to drop two very different verses. The first verse gives us Thought's growing concern with the current state of Hip Hop, second verse flows into bars that are more autobiographical. The first track with a chorus (in the whole Streams of Thought series, so far) comes in the eighth track, "Streets." Their is no possible way I could do justice to the slew of insane metaphors and impossible flows Thought created for this track. So yeah. Just peep it. You can actually Google/YouTube it now. Come back when you ready.

The final track, "Conception," was actually the first single for the project. It is also the only track to have a music video (since the writing of this review). Along with "Streets," this track follows the typical song formula of verse-chorus-verse ("Conception" and "Street" are the only tracks to do that in the current Streams of Thought series). Salaam Remi channels the essence of an R&B track with a soulful mix of instruments and vocals, along with Reek Ruffin on the hook. I am not sure if this is the debut of Reek Ruffin on this chorus, but it wasn't until I saw the video that I was blown away by who he is. This was a revelation to me, but maybe proper Black Thought fan's knew about this alter ego. Reek Ruffin is Black Thought's singer persona. So on top of being a top tier emcee, dude is also a soulful Marvin Gaye crooner. Go figure. Thought touches on love, relationships, fame, race, and religion in this radio ready single. It doesn't get smoother than this one right here. And the music video tells a beautiful story of a young couple just making it through this world as a team. The love story is juxtaposed with Black Thought in a club-sized room performing "Conception." There is a full circle moment at the end that I won't spoil, but just know this video has legit production value behind it.

I was joking with another Hip Hop fan that you need a PhD to really break down and dissect a Black Thought track/album. After diving into Streams of Thought Vol 2, I gotta say that statement definitely holds true. What makes Black Thought special is that he effortlessly appears to have the ability to create conscious, complex, and meaningful music. Grown music. You're not gonna hear Black Thought in the headphones of boys at the mall with sagging skinny jeans (just..why? how?), or with girls around a car doing whatever the latest #twerkchallange is. One good thing (maybe only good thing) about getting older is getting to that "I don't give a fuck" stage. But there is a difference between having that feeling as an adolescence, and adding perspective and experience to that equation. When you hear young rappers talk about "we keepin' it a buck" or "we out here keepin' it real", you hear that subconscious (or conscious) hint of immaturity. It is only with years of experience (for the most part) that you can channel that feeling into something productive. After a few decades in the game, it is that growth that has allowed Black Thought to evolve into the god emcee we see/hear today. Could he have created the Streams of Thought series in his 20s? 30s? I'm not going to definitively say no, but there is probably a reason we got them joints when he's 46-47. His bars are poignant and precise. And I ain't even get into DEM BEATS yet. Salaam Remi came at this project with the same benefit of wisdom and experience. Remi was able to bring his whole arsenal (or damn near all of it) to the table. We got: boom bap tracks, percussion heavy joints, minimal/muted instrumentals, jazz influenced beats, and that R&B smooth single. Paired with Black Thought's A.1. flow and content, you can't loose. Sequels normally have the stigma of being less than its predecessor. In this case, not the case. 9th Wonder is in my top five (and Remi would probably round the top 10-15). So I went into Streams of Thought Vol 2 with an insanely high bar. And I admit, I was worried when the track list almost doubled. Even though I feel all top tier emcees should be able to drop a ten track project of the highest caliber at the drop of a dime. Final verdict: Vol 2 is better than Vol 1. It might not be fair because, as I mentioned, Streams of Thought Vol 2 has almost double the tracks. And I KNOW that if 9th and Thought dropped a ten track project, it would have been top shelf. But I can only judge what I got. With more tracks, there is also the possibility of having a whack track or two. Again, not the case. The range of beats and content make this bulletproof. Take notes, because if this is how Black Thought attacked 2018 I can't wait to see what's in store for 2019.

With no hesitation I say cop that Streams of Thought Vol 2 (and Vol 1 while you at it) if you haven't already done so. Start your 2019 with some of the best of 2018. So with a sense of deja vu, I'll say that I hope a "volume 3" is around the corner. Peep the amazing video for "Conception" below.

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18 December 2018

REVIEW | 9th Wonder Presents: Jamla is the Squad 2

I don't know how you'd prove this, but it feels like the amount of Hip Hip music hitting the masses is at an all time high. Of course there are many variables to this, one being the technology, but it is definitely noticeable. This oversaturation will continue for the simple fact that Hip Hop equals money. So while record labels scramble to build their rosters with superstars like the Drakes, Cardis, or inmate number 6ix9ine, 9th has taken a different approach. Since the first Jamla is the Squad compilation album in 2014, 9th Wonder has gone the Warriors/Spurs route (I guess more Spurs route, or pre-KD Warriors route). Instead of looking for the hot gimmick of the month, he's decided to invest in the long term. 9th has aligned himself with artists who are coachable (is that not a word?), who care about their craft and the culture, and who do not make moves solely for sales. With a relatively young roster, 9th is going against the current trend in Hip Hop. Missing on his record label are the stereotypical radio/strip club joints, the hyper gangster or misogynistic lyrics, and the obligatory mumble features. So with an updated and semi-seasoned roster, how did 9th Wonder do with his sequel, Jamla is the Squad 2, compilation project? Let's go straight in.

First off, 9th Wonder gets an immediate salute for putting together a twenty two track album. In 2018 this seems like a lost art. Many of today's Hip Hop "influencers" seem to be pushing these new LP/EP hybrid length projects. And I get it. The current iteration of the human race is not capable of focusing on a single thing at length anymore. We are now multitasking creatures who consume information in segments. I'll admit that it takes me longer to finish a review once I start. New music, YouTube, games, and life take chunks of my time while in the review process. Although the research I do is also part of the process that slows me down considerably. But I digress. 9th Wonder is betting on himself. Betting on his process. He'll take a Tim Duncan over a Dwight Howard or Kwame Brown any day. He knows to build from the ground up. Lay down a strong foundation. This foundation is evident in all Jamla projects. None more noticeable than this project. With 9th and the Soul Council on the boards, you would expect a cohesive boom bap and soulful vibe throughout Jamla is the Squad 2. And you would be correct. The intro track "Welcome To JamRoc" has a reggae sample throughout, but is far from a dance hall record. It features Rapsody, three other current Jamla emcees (GQ, Reuben Vincent, and Ian Kelly), and Jamla songstress Heather Victoria. With musical influences from Damien Marley and Aretha Franklin, this song celebrates Jamla Records partnership with Roc Nation.

On top of highlighting the Jamla camp, 9th also taps lyrical vets like: Pharoahe Monch, Busta Rhymes, Black Thought, Big K.R.I.T. (on way to becoming a vet) and David Banner. But I thought there was a J Cole feature? First, the list above is of non-Jamla emcees on tracks dolo (sans Jamla artists). J Cole is on a track with Rapsody. So that's a Jamla track with a Cole feature. By the way, OF COURSE that Rapsody/Cole track is pure dope. There is also a Conway feature on a track with Jericho Jackson (I know Elzhi is not on Jamla, but the group and album were released on Jamla Records). Either all that made sense to you, or it did not. I am assuming a lot of Jamla/Hip Hop knowledge on your part. Just Google it. What you should know is that all these features are FUEGO all day. Monch kills his solo track, "Crazy", with his staple flow-over-anything style. Probably one of my favorite tracks is the aforementioned Jericho Jackson and Conway track "Machine and McQueen". Conway's laid back flow is a perfect match for the Elzhi pairing and Khrysis beat. Busta Rhymes channels his inner Slick Rick for the nostalgic track "Jumpin'". The 1988 influenced track sees Busta bench his signature energetic flow and style for an updated version of Slick Rick's "Mona Lisa". Black Thought has a two for one with his track "Cojiba". With an instrumental switch up a minute into the track, Thought flips his flow while continuing the arch of his subject matter. The soulful southern collab track "Knocking at my Door" features Big K.R.I.T., Jakk Jo, and David Banner. I obviously know about Mississippi titans KRIT and Banner, but I've only heard of Jakk Jo through passing convos. Jakk Jo is New Orleans bred and is the son of No Limit's first lady, Mia-X (crazy I know, felt just as old when I found out). So off the bat Jakk Jo gets a salute for even attempting to spit alongside these lyrical beasts. And to be honest, the legacy emcee definitely hold his own.

You can't talk about 9th Wonder's roster without mentioning Jamla's first lady, Rapsody. The 9th Wonder protege is easily his most successful and influential artist. So it is no surprise that she is on the first and last tracks with her Jamal peers, as well as on two additional tracks. The lead single, "Sojourner", alongside J Cole is another notch on her belt alongside one of the best in game currently. With two of my favorite "new school" emcees, this track is easily one of the best on the album. The track "REDBLUE" features J Cole's Dreamville emcee J.I.D. J.I.D. has strung together a pair of critically acclaimed albums while under the Dreamville umbrella. This turned out to be a perfect pairing in terms of lyrical styles. You might actually miss that this track has a feature. On my first listen I thought Rapsody was trying something different with her cadence and delivery. That is absolutely a compliment to J.I.D. and I will now have him on my radar.

The rest of the album is full of Jamla emcees and R&B artist Heather Victoria. She actually has two solo songs, "Japan" and "One Love". The latter strips down Nas' "One Love" track into a soulful/jazzy song about self love. HV proclaims her independence and does not need a relationship to define her self worth or happiness. And "Japan" follows the more typical R&B theme of love knowing no bounds. As a fan of R&B, the Heather Victoria tracks were great compliments to the "Hip Hop" compilation album. With 9th Wonder behind the instrumentals, it was easy to expect finely crafted songs.

So I've actually been working on this review longer than others. Some of that has to do with the amount of product there is (again, very thankful for a proper twenty two track project). But a lot has to do with the holidays and life thangs. All good thankfully. But it has given me the ability to expand my perspective on the review. One thought I had early in the review process was how to explain what "Jamla" is. Compilation albums are milestones. Mission statements. You knew Ruff Ryder's compilation albums would sound like Swizz Beatz beats (ha) and be full of grimey NY bars. You knew a D.I.T.C. compilation album would be lyrically superior with good/ok instrumentals. Jamla is definitely mature enough as a label to have an identity. So recently as I'm pondering on how to describe the Jamla DNA, Dave Chappelle's Block Party comes on the TV. Light bulb. If the artists who performed on Block Party were under a label, it would be Jamla. Well, more like artists who were inspired by that lineup. If you haven't seen the docu-movie, definitely peep that (the soundtrack too). But Jamla is the essence of that to me. Artists who genuinely emphasize lyricism, who are socially conscience, and who are an evolution of the purest ingredients of Hip Hop culture. That being said, I know this album isn't for everybody. Unfortunately, in the current climate I feel the majority of people aren't checking for albums like this. On the flip, the rarity of albums of this caliber make them more special. I've been a fan of 9th Wonder, Rapsody, and the whole Jamla movement for years now. So this project will definitely make it on my playlist rotations for months/years to come.

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09 November 2018

REVIEW | Dave East and Style's P - Beloved

Last month we got a surprise team up album from Dave East and Styles P, Beloved. Dave East has been in his Human Torch mode for a while now. Since he signed to Nas' Mass Appeal Records in 2014, he's dropped 6 well received solo projects. This year alone East dropped P2 and Karma 2 (along with this joint album). And then there is Styles mutha fuckin P! The OG recently dropped his NINTH solo album in May, G-Host. I have not had time to peep it in it's entirety yet. Not for lack of interest, it was just a busy summer Hip Hop wise and life wise. But we did review his previous tag team album from last year, The Seven (with Talib Kweli). Apparently he also teamed up last year with Berner, for Vibes. Sorry Berner. Don't know you..so yeah. But whether it's dolo or with the Lox collective, you know you are getting top notch street tracks whenever you get Styles P bars. So on paper the duo of Styles P (the triple OG) and Dave East (the YG, well he is 30..please say 30 is still young) is a no-brainer. So was this dream collab only good in theory, or were they able to bridge the gap (in my Joe Budden podcast voice).

The intro/title track "Beloved" quickly answers the question, "where did the title for Beloved come from?" A robotic Midnight Marauders type voice starts the track off with: "The meaning of the name David is beloved or friend." This Biblical Hebrew origin immediately links both emcees: Dave East (whose name is David Brewster Jr., also Dave is a nickname for David) and Styles P (whose name is David Styles). Each David uses their bars to introduce themselves to the listener. The first two verses are equally divided, starting with Styles and ending with East. The last verse is a back and forth starting with East and switching off with P every two bars. Both emcees do an amazing job complimenting each others flow. Honestly there are many overlaps in their rap styles. So much so that I believe the synergy created was effortless. Their is an underlying authenticity in what they say and how they say it. But if you break down their bars (like yours truly), you can decipher what makes each emcee unique. Example, in the last verse Styles P raps, "Beloved, I been rugged since the four finger nugget." I won't go too deep into it (pause), but basically Styles is dating himself by saying he's been hustlin since 1980-ish (when McDonald's McNuggets came out). In contrast, Dave East raps, "Beloved, I been thuggin' since Carmelo played for the Nuggets." East is also "dating" himself, but if you follow the clues he is saying he's been hustlin since 2003-ish (when Carmelo Anthony was drafted by the Denver Nuggets). Actually until I read this breakdown out loud I see that these lines mirror each other more than I thought. So major props to them for that.

The final track "Load My Gun" features the remaining Lox members joining the Styles/East collabo. If you a LOX fan you already know what it is. The haunting instrumental provides the perfect foundation for the OGs to paint vivid street portraits. But "the LOX create another street banger" is not gonna be a headline. The trio has had decades of honing their style and chemistry. Dave East was able to hold his own with P, but how would he fare spitting alongside the entire legendary collective? With a resounding "hold my drink", Dave East drops bars that make you believe he is a LOX long lost nephew. Just like that. This track is arguably the hardest track on the album. Which is saying something because this is one of the hardest albums I've heard in a minute. Breaking down a verse won't really do the track justice. Just know this is top shelf. I might even recommend playing this track first (after you finish this review of course). But it makes sense that this track would be the bookend to the project.

If I were to describe the album in one word, it would have to be "hard" (feel like I need another pause here). This project evokes 90's LOX (of course)/CNN/Mobb Deep type vibes. Just good ol' grimey NY bars and beats. This is the type of joint you bang while eating cereal on the stoop in your wife beater, sweats, and flip flops and socks. Styles P and Dave East were able to successfully capture a timeless moment in Hip Hop. Styles comes from the Golden Era of Hip Hop (and the crack era). East is a branch from that tree. And both emcees are able to seamlessly bridge generational gaps. Like I said in the intro paragraph, this should work on paper (and it clearly did). The main reason being that even though there is thirteen years between the emcees, the underlining characteristic between them is authenticity. Keeping it real is timeless. Well, authentic "keeping it real"-ness. Because we know not everyone who says they keep it real is actually living that life. And of course there is the NY connection. Both emcees are products of the same environment, just from a different decade. The more I listen to the album, the more I appreciate the fine line the emcees balanced. There is a nostalgic vibe you get from the album, but it is definitely a contemporary project. The evolution of Styles P's street lyrical style is merged with Dave East establishing himself as the new generation of street lyrical emcees. If you are looking for radio hits or back pack raps, keep it moving. Beloved is strictly for those who live or appreciate that street life. If that's you, def pick this up ASAP if you haven't done so already.

Peep Beloved album, video for "We Got Everything", and Funk Flex freestyles below.

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07 August 2018

REVIEW | Black Thought - Streams of Thought Vol. 1

With the blitz of dope albums hitting us this year, it was easy for a few projects to fall through the cracks. Especially an EP with damn near zero marketing. The Root's front man, Black Thought, decided that this was the year we'd finally get that solo studio project (not counting the J. Period The Live Mixtape series). Streams of Thought Vol. 1 is a five track EP entirely produced by 9th Wonder and The Soul Council. We've actually been teased with a solo (or non-Root collab joint) album from Black Thought since 2001. I feel most Hip Hip heads were content with getting Roots projects (since Thought is basically the groups only emcee) and Black Thought features throughout the years. But DEM BLACK THOUGHT FANS, man they've been fiending for that dolo joint heavy. Streams of Thought Vol. 1 gives us a glimpse at what a full LP might sound like. Since it's just five tracks, I won't go all Sherlock Holmes on a few tracks like I normally do. I'll hit all tracks, just less in depth.

The intro track "Twofifteen" is a play off of Thought's area code (Philly area codes are 215 and 267). You get a few expected bars about Thought's specific upbringing in Philly, but he quickly dives into more macro themes. With no breaks, Black Thought masterfully touches on a slew of topics. One of my favorite bars is "My homey Gonzalez, only know gun violence", referencing the gun control activist/advocate Emma Gonzalez (from the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida). The next track "9th vs. Thought" is a two verse assault that is broken up by a Black Thought interlude (not a hook). The first interlude states, "It takes two to make anthropology. The student and the studied. That being the case, it is time for the studied to examine the student and to evaluate its own self." Thought effortlessly hits you with a barrage of braggadocio bars that keep you permanently in stank face mode. Honestly this might be one of my favorite Black Thought tracks. Ever. If you don't hear nothing else, hear this one. The track "Dostoyevsky" is a reference to Russian author and philosopher Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky. Black Thought said he got the idea for this track from his interview with the New York Times. During the interview Black Thought was told, "You’re like the hip-hop Dostoevsky." Since then, he's had the seed for this track on deck. It took a 9th beat and a Rapsody feature to bring this intellectual track to life. Another boom bap classic track. It goes without saying that Thought and Rap KILLT that joint.

The single "Making a Murderer" actually dropped two years ago. It dropped in April, four months after the Netflix documentary series of the same name. The longest track from the bunch, clocking in at 4:33, it definitely gives Black Thought and Styles P more than enough lane to kill the track (pun intended). Full of wild metaphors and crazy visuals, this is exactly the track you'd expect from these two lyrical titans. The aptly named final track "Thank You" is the perfect bookend to this mini Black Thought/9th Wonder experiment. As you correctly assumed, this a "thank you" track to his supporters, fans, and peers/mentors that showed him love and support throughout his career. The track is also the only one produced by Khrysis (member of 9th Wonder's The Soul Council). It is also the only "soulful" beat among the grimey and boom bap sounds from the rest of the EP (it is also the only track with a chorus, featuring Mississippi songstress Kirby). Being how Khrysis comes from the "school of 9th", it is no surprise that this track provides a seamless and cohesive end to this album.

Point blank period, Streams of Thought Vol 1 is perfection. I can't think of a single thing I would change or edit. The beats are top shelf. Black Thought came correct with masterful displays of lyrics, flow and substance. Every bar is a grown man bar. No question. The features were just right (in amount and emcee selection). Y'all know I'm Rapsody biased. But her verse was one that I would put in her top 10 easily. And P! This two year old track just gets better with time. During this review I was able to uncover WAY more metaphors, double entendres, and themes I missed before. Even though I didn't OD with what I put into this review, my process was still the same. With lyrics, interviews, sample tracks, and Wiki all up on my screen like I'm Batman looking for the Joker. Black Thought is a conscious emcee with the ability to switch to grimey at the drop of a dime. This EP is not a "new Black Thought", rather the same socially/politically aware, flow switching, lyrical monster we've known all these years. But there is a slight change in his perspective. As a young intellectual emcee, Thought was able to use his experiences to predict where his journey would take him. His growth as an emcee and man now further solidify (or change) his beliefs as a younger man. You hear different pockets of flow in his delivery. Content-wise Thought is relevant while at the same time addressing issues he's highlighted since way back when. Nothing about this project feels stale. Another mark of genius is that he did it with the tried and true boom bap sound and straight BARS. AND NO HOOKS. Peep the whole thing again. No hooks to be found. Just raw lyrics all up and down the tracks. If we assume that every decision was deliberate, we can also assume (hope) that the "Vol 1" in Streams of Thought Vol 1 was as well. I have not heard anything about a "Vol 2" or how many volumes Thought plans to have. But we can all hope that the answer is "soon" and "many". I would actually like to see Black Thought do a "Vol 2" with another producer handling another 5-7 track EP (7 is still an EP right?). Matter of fact, it's really a win-win. I KNOW Thought and 9th have a couple more EPs on the studio floor, so a "Vol 2" with 9th would also be happily received. 

Peep the full EP below. And peep that Black Thought freestyle on Flex (Hot 97)..just because. 

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23 July 2018

REVIEW | Royce da 5'9" - Book of Ryan

Royce's career is one that many emcees would kill for: a solid catalog of LPs/EPs/mixtapes that spans (almost) two decades, one fourth of the lyrical Voltron group Slaughterhouse (unfortunately the now extinct group), half of a rap duo with Eminem (Bad Meets Evil), and half of the emcee/producer team with the legendary DJ Premier (PRhyme). If you are one of those people that has Nickel Nine in your top ten, I can't front. I ain't mad at that. Royce not only has a slew of classic bars and tracks in his arsenal, but dude got a few projects that certain circles will stamp with that "classic" tag as well. His second album, Death Is Certain, comes to mind (I might throw in Layers as a possible). As well as his mixtape series The Bar Exam (with the likes of Statik Selektah, DJ Premier, DJ Green Lantern, and DJ Whoo Kid at the helm). So how did Royce da 5'9" do on his seventh solo album? Let's find out.

Let's start with his first single, "Boblo Boat", featuring J Cole. The beat is sampled from Michał Urbaniak's "A Day in Park". Urszula Dudsiak's vocals can be heard throughout the track, mainly taken from her first verse. Her words play like a grocery list of words associated with an amusement park. The track actually starts off with an excerpt from a documentary about Bob-Lo Island. The narrator, Mort Crim, introduces the Canadian amusement park that existed from 1898 to 1993. Royce remembers taking the "Bob-Lo Boats" (S.S. Columbia and the S.S. Ster. Clair) from Detroit, Michigan to Ontario, Canada. Nickel uses this backdrop to paint fond memories at the park and foreshadows events that influenced his upbringing. Moments of happiness are broken by the threat of addiction that ran through his family. His metaphors juxtapose food courts with the aroma of weed, and swimming pools surrounded by broken glass. J Cole takes the baton seamlessly as he gives his tale from his North Carolina upbringing. Cole didn't have trips to Bob-Lo Island, but he vividly recalls his teenage years. Everyone was just worried about being "cool". For Cole and his friends it meant smoking, drinking, and losing your virginity. In these simpler times Cole was most happy joy riding in his mother's Honda Civic with his crew. Times have changed, but Cole assures the listeners that he still hasn't peeked as an emcee. As first singles go, you don't get better than this.

"Cocaine" was a track that stood out from the first listen. It actually comes after a skit. It's a little deep, but the skit ends with Royce's son asking for help with his school paper about "a figure in [his] life that [he] finds inspiring, that [he] looks up to". His son chose to write the paper about his father, Royce. The title for the paper would be "The Book of Ryan". SO DOPE. His son's first question is, "who are you?" Then we enter "Cocaine". Royce skillfully answers his son with a specific anecdote about Royce's father and the first time he found out about his drug use. Royce's battle with addiction is well documented, and this entire album pulls the curtain back on never before seen (or heard) personal stories. A recurring question is: if Royce's father didn't battle addiction, would Royce (and his bother) not have to deal with their own addictions? Royce knows that he lost a lot of time with his family while he was battling addiction. "Cocaine" is meant to explain to his son that addiction runs heavy in their family. By understanding his grandfather's struggle, his son is able to better understand the struggle Royce went through. In the end, both men beat their addictions by using their families as their motivation and strength. This is a beautiful track that also just sounds dope.

We've heard about the concept for the Book of Ryan since 2016. But it wasn't until March (this year), around the release of PRhyme 2that we got a tracklist and cover art for the Book of Ryan. Royce basically pulled a Josh Brolin. Brolin played Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War AND Cable in Deadpool 2. Dude had two blockbusters a month (not even) apart from one another. PRhyme 2 dropped on March 16th, and month and some change later Royce was hitting us up with his seventh solo LP. In Hip Hop head circles, both of these albums definitely garnered a lot of buzz. Any solo album is always a risk. Since it is just you. Good or bad, it's all on you. That risk multiplies when you start getting up there in the tracklist. The Book of Ryan clocks in at 21 tracks (well, 19 if you discount the two skit tracks). We are finally enough removed from "Kanye season" that a 21 track album is a breath of fresh air. That's a drive home from work or a session at the gym. No skips. No repeats. But an hour (almost) listening to a "very personal" project? That's though, but here is the genius. So you got the theme, but you can't "Slippin'" or "Cleanin' Out My Closet" us to death for 21 tracks. Nickel hits you with a stick and move. He distributes where he chooses to go into detail about specific subjects and where he can provide broader perspectives that are relatable to more listeners. And of course there are parts where he can just flex his lyrical muscles for the sake of flexing. Oh, and THE BEATS. As an executive producer (along with Mr. Porter and S1), Royce is able to craft an entire album by hand picking the perfect instrumentals for each section of the album. The range that Nickel is successfully able to hit is crazy. And to make it all cohesive is even more amazing. Songs like "Summer on Lock" shouldn't work in this particular album. But it does. The T-Pain (T-Pain!) assisted "First of the Month" track also stand out as a surprisingly successful addition. Royce adds harmony to his already impressive lyrical repertoire. Not just on the "lighter" songs, but on deep joints like "Anything/Everything". Royce is able to balance an interpersonal album by adding current and relevant subject matter that all can relate to. The Book of Ryan is just that. An autobiographical book on tape. To say this is an introspective album would be an understatement. If you listen to this album for a week straight (or weeks, as I have), you'll have a different favorite track every single day. This project is authentic, vulnerable, and raw. Real rap. I got nothing else. If you a Nickel fan, you better have this in rotation. If you a Hip Hop head, ditto.

Peep video for "Boblo Boat" and the track they sampled, "A Day In The Park", below. AND peep the whole album too! And after you do that, stop being cheap and support Book of Ryan for real. Can't complain there ain't no real rap when you don't support real rap. Truth.

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18 July 2018

REVIEW | PRhyme - PRhyme 2

Man, talk about determination!  Who the fuck does this Royce guy think he is dropping two albums in the same year like this?  The only other name that immediately comes to mind is the dog himself, DMX, who hit us over the head with It's Dark and Hell is Hot in May of '98, then again with Flesh of my Flesh, Blood of my Blood in December of that same year.  The thing is, X was generous enough to let the first album breathe a little bit before jumping onto the next one.  Royce da 5'9", on the other hand, gave zero fucks about flooding the market with heat in the span of just two months.  In March of 2018, he and Preemo kicked things off first with PRhyme 2, the sequel to 2014's universally acclaimed debut project from the super group.

I assume that Royce and DJ Premier were aware of how high the bar was set with PRhyme, so what would their approach be this time around?  Well, without beating around the bush, it's a mixed bag of ideas that sound really good at times, but never quite gel together in any way.  An example of this is a song like "Everyday Struggle."  You can tell Royce was clearly aiming to bridge the gap between old heads and modern rappers on the track, but the problem is that it completely contradicts "Era," one of the earlier tracks on the album that preaches how Royce feels like he's wasting his time making music in the wrong generation.  So what are we really talking about here, bruh?  There are also a couple of questionable features and hooks on PRhyme 2 that make you wonder if Royce just ran out of top-tier rapper friends to collaborate with after the stellar feature list from the first album.  I'm sorry, but Royce has absolutely no business making music with 2 Chainz for ANY reason.  Not only that, but Chainz's contribution is BY FAR the worst verse I've heard from him since his emancipation from Disturbing tha Peace.  This is a problem.  Shit like this tarnishes the PRhyme brand in my opinion.  When DJ Premier attaches his name to something, there's a certain level of quality control expected, and there just wasn't enough of it on this album. 

While PRhyme 2 is certainly a far more thematic project than its predecessor, you rarely ever feel that signature Preemo thunder for more than a couple of tracks successively.  For the most part, it's an album where style takes a backseat to substance.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but with Premier at the helm it's natural to expect his style to be prominent throughout.  Even though he technically had a hand in producing every song, it's evident that Premier leaned a little too hard on AntMan Wonder for production this time around, as a good chunk of this album sounds nothing like what you'd expect from Preem.  Still, Royce's artistry makes it work by making sure nearly every track sticks to a given theme without falling into a pool of shallow-yet-lyrical rappity raps for too long. 

"Black History" ferociously kicks off the album with one half sending you on a journey through Royce's troubled life from birth, while the other half gives you a quick rundown of Premier's career leading up to the inception of Gang Starr, Jeru the Damaja's debut album, and Group Home to name a few.  It's a powerful yet succinct trip down memory lane designed to either educate youngins that ain't ran their Googles yet, or jog the memories of older rap heads who grew up witnessing DJ Premier shape the entire culture of hip-hop on the east coast.  That same energy is maintained into the next song, "1 of the Hardest," which truly lives up to its name as Nickel Nine is on his typical braggadocios shit with an onslaught of nothing but BARS.  The real meat of the album is found right in the middle though, with a mostly consistent streak of standout bangers such as "Streets at Night," "Rock It," and "My Calling" taking center stage.  Sadly though, that streak comes to an end with "Made Man" which is a song that speaks on how despite what anyone thinks about his career, Royce da 5'9" feels like he has been successful and deserves to be respected.  It may end up not being very memorable, but based on the subject matter alone this would have been a good track to end the album on, as the remaining five songs do nothing but weaken the project. 

Overall, PRhyme 2 is certainly an adequate follow-up to the original, but you're gonna find yourself doing a lot of skipping around as it pales in comparison to the consistently raw and aggressive underground vibe of the first album.  It almost makes you wonder if the original PRhyme should have just been left alone as a modern day classic.  Songs like "Rock It," "Streets at Night," and "1 of the Hardest" most definitely fit the premise of PRhyme as a collective.  The major issue is that with so many missteps like "Gotta Love It," and "W.O.W.," as well as tracks whose themes were better than the songs themselves like "Loved Ones," "Flirt," "Everyday Struggle," and even the lead single "Era," it's as if Preem and Royce just dumped a bunch of random shit on us and called it a PRhyme project without it having any notable identity.  Sometimes less is more, and that is certainly the case with PRhyme 2 vs. PRhyme.  I feel like if half of these songs were left on the cutting room floor, PRhyme 2 might be able to compete with its predecessor on a more equal playing field.  It holds up on well enough on its own, but if their goal was to establish some sort of reputation moving forward with PRhyme, this album did little to strengthen the brand.

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03 July 2018


SIX YEARS. It's been six years since Nasir Jones dropped a new project. Y'all remember that DJ Khaled single, "Nas Album Done" (they even made a music video for it!)? That was two years ago. And about this same time last year we got the hashtag #NasAlbumAlmostDone on Instagram from Nas' brother Jungle. Then crickets. So for the better part of two years Nas fans have been fiending for a new full length album. And after all that, somehow, Nas got pulled into the gravitational pull of the Kanye West/GOOD Music "Wyoming Sessions". So off the bat we know NASIR was getting seven tracks. I've been vocal about my aversion to this new accepted length for an LP (his daddy called it an EP, I'm gonna call it an EP). But Illmatic was technically nine tracks (I know it's ten tracks but the intro track is more of a skit). Plus we all know what both artists are capable of (and we saw what Kanye did with Pusha T), so I'm still going into this "LP" pretty excited. Let's go.

The intro track "Not For Radio" features Puff Daddy in another "Hate Me Now" (from the I Am album) role. Puff starts the latter track by saying "Escobar season has returned". On the new track, Nas starts off with "Escobar season begins". Early in his career, one of Nas' monikers was "Nas Escobar". This was of course a reference to Pablo Escobar, the Colombian drug kingpin. With almost a decade between these two songs, Nas kicks off the album by letting you know he is still the same lyrical monster he was in his younger days. Kanye lays down a choir-like melody that almost feels like a movie score. Nas attacks the track with all the tools in his repertoire: a smooth flow and cadence, complex subject matter, conscious metaphors, and gritty bars. Nas hits you with powerful lyrics about: Egyptian gods, black pride, divinity, fashion (Goyard, Google it), Cooley high, the presidential election, politics, slavery, longevity, fake friends, divinity, Catholics, Moors, Freemasons, Black Panthers, SWAT, Willie Lynch, crack/Pablo Escobar, American history, fear, and a rack of other themes I'm sure I missed. Nas has been consistent when it comes to ill intro tracks. This is no different. There is a theory (based on Kanye tweeting the definition of the seven deadly sins four days before NASIR dropped), that each Nas track is meant to correlate to a deadly sin. "Not For Radio" would correspond to pride since it is very "pro-black/proud". Even though Nas ends the track acknowledging the downfalls of being "too proud".

"Simple Things" is a very clever track on a more chilled and soulful beat. There is a hint of melody in his cadence that compliments this last track. This song is Nas looking back at his career and life. The spiritual emcee elevates his bars to make sure his place among the greats is undisputed. Nas recognizes his greatest flaw (according to critics) is his production selection. But he takes pride in not sounding like the "top 40". Nas will never follow a fad or passing trend. He will not dumb down his lyrics and subject matter to appease the radio overlords. He states that his lyrics are studied (and taught) by college professors. Like the course “Poetry in America for Teachers: The City from Whitman to Hip Hop" (whose track syllabus includes "It Ain't Hard To Tell") at Harvard. Yeah, that Harvard. The newer generation might not like Nas, or think he is boring. But Nas could care less. His catalog has sold over 25 million units, so "somebody agrees with the music". Nas also references his relationships with the most beautiful women in the world. Most of whom he has kept private. Even though he has enjoyed a luxurious life, he still loves getting in a "spaceship" with his brother and going back to Queensbridge to hang out with his people. And again, if we follow the seven deadly sins theory, we can correspond "Simple Things" to the sin of envy. Nas is aware of the envious (jealous) people who look at him with hate and resentment. From his relationships to his career, Nas knows critics and haters feed off of his downfall. But through all of this, Nas breaks down the essence of the song with his final bar: "I just want my kids to have the same peace I'm blessed with". Nas' daughter, Destiny (little Des got your eyes) started her own lipstick line/brand(?). His youngest son will also have the resources to make a name for himself if he so chooses. Nas wants his kids to enjoy the simple things in life, peace. The way to defeat envy is by finding inner peace and not letting outside influences run your life. Nas has found a peace through all the trials and tribulations (public and private), and all he wants is his kids to find their peace as well.

If you're a Nas fan and a Kanye fan, this mini LP will be everything you expected. But I will get through what I wasn't feeling first. First all the Kanye stuff. Production wise, I can't front. While this album definitely sounds like a "Kanye album", it works for Nas (for the most part). For me though, I think I'm good with the Nas/Kanye whole album thing. Meaning, no más. Gracias. IF Nas is going to do another one producer project, it should ONLY be with DJ Premier. Honestly I would have liked to hear whatever album he had cooking up a few years ago before Kanye took the reigns. And if I'm comparing this with DAYTONA, I think overall the production worked better for Pusha T than Nas. I don't think Nas was as involved as Push was with Kanye in that department. At least it doesn't sound like he was to me. And then there is the "Kanye" thing. I REALLY wanted to separate Kanye the producer with Kanye the person. But while Nas is dropping these socially conscious gems, all I can think of is all the ignorant and wild shit Kanye's been saying. So there you go. I didn't want this to happen. But it did. And the more we get away from his last TMZ rant (which he recently recanted), the more everyone seems to be cool with Kanye again. My brain just isn't wired like that. *END RANT* Now onto the Nas portion of the review. Overall I would have liked more consistency in quality and quantity. There were moments of GREATNESS. No surprise there. And I am not talking about the whole seven track nonsense. For example, "Everything" is probably one of my favorite tracks. It is the longest track, clocking in at 7:33. But Nas' verses go for just over 2:30. This joint has The-Dream AND Kanye giving us two overlapping (why?) choruses. The song "Bonjour" is a grown man "Change Clothes"-type track. I actually like this track too, but this is definitely an example of those "Kanye featuring Nas" complaints I've seen floating around. Lyrically there are few missteps from the mature poet. For the most part we get politically and socially conscious themes that we expect from one of Hip Hop's elder statesman. Songs like "Adam and Eve" make you yearn for more. Nas and Kanye both compliment each others musical genius perfectly here. Almost effortlessly, Nas uses his experiences to school young and old heads. Sprinkled with braggadocio bars, Nas makes sure that he connects with this swing. From a Nas fan, this is a really good album. But I think I might be caught in that "what if" moment. What if we had 12-15 tracks (like we are accustomed to getting from Nas)? What if Large Professor produced a track? Preem? My expectations for this album were different I guess. But don't get it twisted. This album is better than 90% of what is out now. I'd normally say 99%, but man, we've had some DOPE SHIT this year. But if I compare this to the rest of his catalog, it would be on the lower half. But a lot of the style points I deducted were because of Kanye. This whole "seven is a magic number" thing ain't working for me. And a couple of arrangements seemed off. And the biggest "what if" is, what if we got that pre/non-Kanye album? I don't know. But this joint still gonna be in my rotation for the foreseeable future. I got the vinyl coming, so you know this will still go on my top albums of 2018 so far. If anything, this album gives me hope for the next chapter in Nas' career. With all the business ventures he's been making lately, you feel something really special is on the horizon.

Peep the NASIR album listening party and that DJ Khaled "Nas Album Done" video below.

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22 June 2018

Facebook Jail | B-Sides Podcast

Serious question...and don't lie...

Have you known ANYONE who ever landed in Facebook Jail before?  Or better yet, how many of y'all have even HEARD of it?  If you haven't, this might be the craziest rant you'll hear in 2018.  Listen as The Niftian goes on a five minute rant about what landed him in Facebook Jail over and over again.  Was Facebook buggin for putting our dude in time out over some small shit?  Or are we blind to the underlying irony behind the most mentally enslaving form of media sending you to 'jail,' whilst simultaneously 'freeing' you?  Which ever side of the fence you're on about Facebook Jail, just know that none of this shit matters to stayfly.  Listen to find out why.

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14 June 2018

The End of Mo'Nique | B-Sides Podcast

After the podcast, the fellas decide to delve into the recent (old as fuck) news about Mo'Nique not being offered her supposed 'just due' with Netflix.  We discuss her achievements as well as her pitfalls and why she may never experience another ounce of success in this business. Listen as the three of us rip into Mo's entire career in less than 20 minutes.  

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12 June 2018

REVIEW | Pusha T - Daytona

King Push. We've been waiting for Pusha T's third solo studio album since his 2015 LP, King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude. Most knew what to expect on Daytona given the VA emcee's pedigree and GOOD Music affiliation: DOPE features, Kanye beats, and ALL THAT cocaina flow. After a gang of push back dates, we finally got the release date on April 19th. And apparently the album wasn't "finished" until the 23rd of May, two days before the Friday 25th release. If you knew all that, cool. If not, now you know. But honestly all the behind the curtain moves don't mean a thing if you don't produce. So how did King Pu..Daytona do? Let's get into it.

Since this joint is only 7 tracks long I'm gonna do the review like this: review my two favorite tracks. The "Santeria" instrumental is probably my favorite. But the second I heard it, I had a moment of déjà vu. After some OCD investigating I was able to crack the case. "Santeria" samples Soul Mann & the Brothers' "Bumpy's Lament", from the SHAFT album. Lil' Kim sampled the same instrumental on her Hard Core track, "Drugs". The Clipse used that Lil' Kim instrumental for the track "Ultimate Flow", on their mixtape We Got It 4 Cheap, Vol. 2. Boom. Case cracked (ha, that's just a taste of what my brain be like when I get lost in Hip Hop). "Santeria" is a very vulnerable and introspective track from Push. At the core, it is Push talking to his slain road manager De'Von “Day Day” Pickett. De'Von was the one who made sure everything ran like clockwork on tours. Push also says that he is the one that made sure all tour members said a prayer before each show. All lose of life is tragic, but when someone is taken before their time it leaves a stronger imprint on those who are still present. This track gives us vivid bars that paint images of anger, vengeance, pain, and sadness. The word Santeria literally means "worship of saints". This Afro-Cuban religion was born out of the slave trade era. Parts of this religion believe in communicating with ancestors/deities through trance, animal sacrifice, and sacred drumming/dance. With this song, Pusha T is communicating with another "saint" of his. You throw in a choir-type "hook" (more of a refrain) in Spanish, and you got one of Pusha T's best songs. Ever.

"Infrared", the final track on the minimal album is chock full of metaphors and double entendres. But I know y'all just want me to talk about that Pusha T/Drake beef. Here's the breakdown.  In 2006, The Clipse released Hell Hath No Fury and the track "Mr. Me Too". The duo claimed it wasn't aimed at anyone specific, but Lil Wayne felt otherwise. Inception. In 2012 Push dropped the single "Exodus 23:1". This was his "I don't kill soloists, only kill squads" track that went IN on the whole YMCMB camp. This time openly directed at Wayne, but this time at Drake as well. Wayne hit back hard with..some tweets. But after that, Wayne responded directly with "Goulish". I know I'm biased, but that joint was meh. Drake jumped in the beef with a few subliminals on "Tuscan Leather" (off of 2013's Nothing Was The Same). In 2016 Push replied with a few bars on the "H.G.T.V." track. Later that year Drake came direct at Push (and Kid Cudi) with "Two Birds, One Stone". Enter Daytona, and "Infrared". Push said this was his direct reply to "Two Birds". Push went at Drake addressing the fact that he uses a ghostwriter, Wayne's record deal, and Baby/Birdman stealing money from his YMCMB artists. Drake replied with "Duppy Freestyle". I ain't gonna lie, I was impressed. This was a Pusha T/Kanye diss (but mostly Kanye?) that went at Pusha T's credibility as an ex-drug dealer, that brought up Pusha T's fiance (in my Jay-Z "Takeover" voice: NO!) and that Drake feels Push is washed up and can only sell more records if Drake's name is attached to it (and of course a bunch of Kanye stuff). Push came back with Jay-Z's "The Story of O.J." instrumental in the form of "The Story of Adidon". Push GOES HARD (pause?) addressing Drake's alleged child with a porn star, Drake's mother and father, his upcoming Adidas deal (which was going to be named "Adidon", after his son Adonis), his producer Noah “40” Shebiband's MS, and Birdman again. Drake apparently has another diss track ready that would "end Kanye", but OG mogul J Prince stepped in to make sure this was as far as this beef went. Not gonna lie, I was definitely one of the people that wanted this to keep going on wax. I could list an impressive number of beefs that "went too far" lyrically to make my case, but as of today this seems like the end of this installment of Drake v Push.

Since May 25th (Daytona's release), the GOOD Music collective has had a hand in FIVE albums dropping every Friday. Push was the front runner, followed by Kanye's 8th solo album, a Kanye/Kid Cudi album, Nas' 12th solo album (if you count The Lost Tapes), and Teyana Taylor's second LP KTSE. Since Kanye is taking the lead on all production, it was his decision to make all the albums 7 tracks long. I heard an eight track (Psycho?) was cut last minute. Personally, I think Push has great success with 10-12 track albums (both his solo albums were that). So I would have preferred to have a few more tracks on the Daytona album. That being said, IF you are going to gives a petit four (Google it) it better be flawless. Overall this is top shelf Push. And while I still believe this "new Kanye" is who he is now, I have to give him a tip of the hat for production. Just the production. You can tell when there is a truly collaborative effort on a project. And this is one of them. I've literally had the album on repeat three times in a row and you can't feel a break in the flow of the album. Push is who he is. VA been known, but its up to the rest of Hip Hop to see where they will rank him among the kingpin spitters. Y'all already know where he at with us. VA stand ALL THE WAY up.

Peep the "Ultimate Flow" track, "Exodus 23:1" video, and "The Story of Adidon" track below. Couldn't find that free YouTube joint this time. Matter of fact, go support it for real. Joint was like less than $10.

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