28 March 2011

Review: Saigon "The Greatest Story Never Told"

Saigon’s “debut” album was definitely worth the wait. Whether you listen to this album for its top-notch production (supplied mostly by Just Blaze) or the surprisingly matured lyrical offerings of Saigon, this album shows that sometimes artists that receive a lot of hype actually deserve it. Saigon has managed to release an album that proves what he has been saying for years now, that he is the real deal. 
Even if you haven’t followed Saigon’s journey to this point, just the caliber of guest spots on this release should be enough to give pause: Swizz Beatz, Jay-Z, Q-Tip, Faith Evans, Raheem DeVaughn and Marsha Ambrosius. Nowhere in this roster is there some no name rapper trying to ride in on Saigon’s effort. Most rappers wouldn’t be able to shine past a roster like this, and as much as I hate clich├ęs, it’s evident Saigon isn’t most rappers.
Saigon is a lyrical monster, hands down. In the past he seemed to have buckled under the pressure to make a club song, an extra hard thug song, or a gimmicky song because that’s what people were checking for. On this outing Saigon clearly had more creative control on what he wanted to say and the album is better for it. Tracks like “Clap”, “The Invitation” and “Believe It” show Saigon’s ability to speak his mind without sounding like he is trying to be more than what he is. The track “Preacher” is going to ruffle feathers but it’s what many people think but only Sai is willing to put on wax.
Just Blaze’s production is a perfect fit to Saigon’s lyrics and flow. These two sound like they have been around for more than this album. If they continue to work together in the future they would easily fall into the same category as Eric B. & Rakim or Gangster: duos doing damage.
All in all this is a solid release. Saigon went all in and showed why he is and will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. At one point Saigon refers to himself as “the next Public Enemy.” After hearing this album, Saigon might just be on to something.

- J.  Hyde

Review: Pharoahe Monch "W.A.R. (We Are Renegades)"

Social commentary: check. Informed lyricism: check. Beats that bang: check. 5 star guest features: check. Damn, is there anything that this album DOESN'T have?!? Pharoahe Monch drops fire and brimstone on the hip hop world in a way that not many others can do and so many others have tried to lately (*ahem* Lupe Fiasco) and blows the top on urban social critiques by the elitist governments and politics that haunt the stages of our cities today.

Pharoahe discusses issues that many have talked about, but brings the topic up in such a dramatic and visceral manner that they can't be ignored, which is exactly what we need in my opinion. For example, there is an extended video of his single "Clap (One Day)" that hit me hard, considering my civilian occupation. He covered all the bases of classic rap in that jawn: a track to nod your head to under lyrics that will wake the willing in a video that brings your attention to the real issues. Don't get it confused, though: there are plenty of bangers on this album and Mr. Simon Says does a GREAT job of kicking knowledge without preaching to you.

"Assassins" is one such track. Jean Grae brings the heat just as her disciples expect her to. Her flow on the song is amazing and she doesn't let go for the length of her verse. Royce da 5'9" packs a punch as well but doesn't compare to Ms. What? What? and her rapid delivery. Royce is doing his damn thing with Slaughterhouse, but this song only fueled my ever increasing desire for Cake or Death, Jean Grae's long awaited album, to come out ASAP.

There isn't just amazing, hard bass hitting tracks and flawless flow, either. The divinely raucous, yet amazingly talented Mela Machinko blows out on "Shine," leaving me to wonder where the hell is HER album? I need the music industry to stop sucking on Kesha's dick and get with some REAL talent here. I can't be for certain, but I think Mela lends her strong vocals to "Let My People Go" as well, which just so happens to be my favorite track on the album.

All in all, this is an instant classic. I was anticipating this album for the longest and Pharoahe Monch and crew didn't disappoint one bit. I hope that the period between his last offering, Desire, and his first album, a period of almost a decade, is a thing of the past and we don't have to wait so long for another blessing like this one. If you care about real hip-hop like so many people claim to do, cop this. Buy it, listen to it, rock it, enjoy it. I know I did, and it will be in the rotation for a long while to come.

21 March 2011

Review: Joell Ortiz "Free Agent"

 Alright, let’s just get into the nitty gritty shall we? After listening to: the Bodega Chronicles, countless mixtapes, as well as his phenomenal outing with the supergroup Slaughterhouse, I expected Joell Ortiz’s Free Agent to be an insane piece of work. I expected this album to show why he was part of Slaughterhouse and to be a statement to Death Row on why they should have kept him on the roster. What I didn’t expect was to have all my high hopes turned into toilet paper. This album is arguably one of the most hyped letdowns since Del & Tame One’s Parallel Uni-Verses. For all the praise Joell has been given for the way he’s been known to rip mics and all the hype this album has received, this release is mediocre AT BEST.
     The intro serves to explain a little about Joell’s career and the reason behind the album’s name. After the stage has been set the first track on deck is “Put Some Money On It” featuring The Lox. While it is the one of the more promising tracks Free Agent has to offer, Joell seems to have forgotten a commandment laid down by Jay-Z’s Blueprint, “Thou shalt not have guest spots that out rap you on your own album.” While Joell holds his own on a few bars, the track seems more like it belongs to The Lox and Joell has the guest spot. From there the album goes from mediocre track to mediocre track. What’s more, the guests on this album seem to be picking up the slack left by Mr. Ortiz. When left to his own creativity, Joell struggles to show that same fire he’s had on previous outings. For proof of this look no further than the track, “Nursery Rhyme.” What could have been a stand out track with innovative wordplay is nothing more than weak references and muddled attempts at being clever.
     The main reason this album is such a letdown is because it is Joell’s album. Had this been a release from someone up and coming or a no name, then the bar may not have been as high. But this is Joell Ortiz we are talking about, one of many Puerto Rican MCs fighting to fill the void left by Pun. With Free Agent, Ortiz had the chance to solidify his position as the frontrunner. But with this outing Joell struggles to show why this free agent should be signed to anyone’s roster.

-written by the One Mic, J. Hyde

Pioneer Series: Nate Dogg

As I'm sure you've heard, the state of hip-hop is in a period of mourning, having had just lost one of its greatest voices of soul, the legendary Nate Dogg.

Nate Dogg, born Nathaniel Hale, was born and died in the city and on the coast that he repped for the length of his career, Long Beach. Nate Dogg suffered from a series of strokes within the past few years and his health deteriorated slowly with each one. Complications from the strokes and congestive heart failure sent one of hip-hops most beloved voices to Heaven's Ghetto on March 15.

Dr. Dre is widely credited with creating the sub genre of G-Funk. Well, if Dre is the king of it, Nate Dogg is the ambassador, emisarry, prince, voice and acolyte of G-Funk. His voice was so smooth and yet commanded your ears without any apparent effort. He was the king of the hook, pushing many average songs into the upper echelon of the Billboard charts. Everyone that was anyone knew that if you wanted a bomb song to blow up, you hit Nate Dogg for the hook.

Nate worked with many of hip-hops elite, from Dr. Dre to Eminem, Ludacris to his own group 213, with Warren G and Snoop Dogg. He was admired and loved by many and respected by all. His voice instantly made the song a hit, in my opinion. I loved it when Nate Dogg was on the track and clearly, so did the industry.

Nate Dogg has had critically acclaimed albums, including Music and Me, which reached third on the Billboard hip-hop charts. He is also credited with appearing on over 40 charting singles, including "Regulate" and "The Next Episode."  Who can forget those classics, eh? I know that I never will. I'm sure that I'm not the only one that waited for those five seconds to pass at the end of "The Next Episode" so that I too could scream out "Smoke weed everyday!"

His voice, his ethic, his skill and talent will be missed and will never be duplicated, no matter how hard people try, and try they will. Nate, I hope that you will look over our world of hip hop and I hope to see you on the next episode...

14 March 2011

Review: Raekwon "Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang"

The album title comes from a movie of the same name. Historic Wu-Tang fans will have already known that. However, a better name for this album would have been "Raekwon and Friends" for all of the guest appearances on it. I'm not surprised, though; someone that is a member of a multi-faceted hip-hop group for the span of his career is bound to fail at a solo venture. Or so one might think. Rae has done his own thing before and this is nothing different, although this jawn is FYRE when compared to his last one. It saddens me that Only Built For Cuban Linx 2 was slept on but Shao v Wu should awaken the critics. 

I have one gripe with this album, and one gripe only. I wanted more Raekwon and ONLY Raekwon. He's present on every track, yes, but I feel that he has more than enough strength, skill, stamina and dexterity to handle his own on an album with limited features. You have to expect a few members of the Wu to stop through, namely Ghostface and Method Man, but Rick Ross, Jim Jones, Estelle?!?!

I'm not mad at it, though. That's the flip side of this coin. Estelle's hook on "Chop Chop Ninja" is catchy as hell and very unexpected. I'm loving the shine that she is getting. This is a great look for her and the layout of the song is unusual but fierce. I've never been an Inspectah Deck fan but he does his thing on the track. Rick Ross' flow on Molasses is anything but. The fat man rolls words off of his tongue with lyrical swiftness, and although his verse is short, it's memorable.

I could speak all day on the awesome features on this album (like Busta Rhymes on Crane Style) but that's a moot point. They're there and they're awesome, for the most part. Jim Jones even did his thing, but he fails to shine against the likes of Ghostface Killah in "Rock N Roll." 

Raekwon definitely holds his own on the album, as well he should. Like I said before, I'd like to have seen more of him and less of others (like the recycled Nas verse on "Rich and Black") but overall, it's a typical CLASSIC album of Wu proportions. The skits aren't too unnecessary and heavy and have their place in the album given the title. I actually would have been confused and surprised had there not been any movie cuts. 

The production on this album is wild as well. I found my head bobbing on every single track, which is almost always riding under a skit (that also helped to make them bearable). RZA had no hand in production but Rae went and built a nice ass house to place his work in. 

Bottom line: worth copping. Rae brings along almost the entire Wu with other flavorful guests and brings back some of what the most die-hard hip hop heads have been seeking. 

Review: Lupe Fiasco "Lasers"

Lupe Fiasco is angry. He's upset with the government, he's upset with Atlantic Records, he's upset with the world and its politics. I know this and you will too once if you cop Lasers, his third studio release. The Fiasco doesn't aim for too much for radio friendly banter, instead using 12 tracks to dissect his views on the current state of affairs of the nation and the world at large. For true LF fans, it's nothing new, just more of the same. For those who either aren't big fans or are new to Lupe, this will seem like what it is: a conscious rappers conscious album. I know a lot or artists don't like that title, but I don't know how else to put it. With numerous references to politics, Barack Obama, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Islam, terrorism and the KKK Lupe is out to "edutain" yet again.

I've been a fan of Lupe's since I first heard him on Kanye's "Touch The Sky" and will continue to remain one, but this album is a bit thick for me. None of the references go over my head, I understand the points he is making and I agree with some of his opinions. I disagree with a lot of his delivery, though. For some, it's no new news that Lupe has gone through hell and high water to get this album out with Atlantic and has even had some choice words to say about it since its release. I'm not privy to all of his personal issues but I know that he stated in one interview that he was told to not go as deep on this record. It seems that he did just that, possibly in protest. The skill factor from his last album The Cool has been turned way down, substituted for "sing-songy" rhymes and quickly delivered lyrics. I think he did this on purpose, though.

The lyrics aside, the beats are different and I like them. They're not your typical hip-hop fodder, which I am ok with. The production is new and exciting, also. I'm not familiar with many of the producers but they've got good work on this album. However, I don't think they're all a good look for Lupe's style. Well, they're not a good look for what I am used to concerning Lupe's style. I say that meaning that there is a lot of singing on this album. The majority of the hooks are sung, whether by LF or a guest artist. It doesn't sad bad, per se, it's just an awkward fit for what I'm used to. I don't see this as progression on Lupe's part; instead, more like a sideward movement. One that need not be repeated.

What makes me feel better about this album is that Lupe's is displeased with it. Well, that generally makes two of us, at least. Hopefully, Atlantic will give him more freedom with his next venture as this one was not his usual work. The lead single "The Show Goes On" is a nice touch, but his delivery is slower than usual and sounds kind of boring. Every other track is equally forgettable.

Hopefully, Lupe won't be as angry next go round. I think it interfered a great deal with his creativity. Now, if you'll excuse me I'm off to find my copy of The Cool.

07 March 2011

Holy Beefin' Barbies, Batman!

What is beef to you? To me it is simply a disagreement of epic urban proportions. Beef can be fun and beneficial to the hip-hop genre. Usually I am "anti-beef/arguing/conflict" when it comes to rap and hip-hop but someone recently pointed out to me that some of the most influential moments in hip-hop came about as a result of "beef." Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Caz, N.W.A. and Dr. Dre/Ice Cube, Common Sense and W.C.C. It doesn't always have to be bad. Unfortunately, sometimes it is, and that's when the negativity reaches an unfortunate climax and we end up with Tupac and Biggie.
With that said, I pose a question. Where is the line to be drawn? When LL Cool J and Canibus were beefin', it was seen as a healthy jolt for hip-hop. Nothing brews creativity like competition, right? Many mainstream rap fans didn't even know who Mr. Can-I-Bus was until the Second Round Knockout track was released. The series of events surrounding that ordeal was a huge boost to his career.

Jay-Z and Nas both benefited from increased popularity as a result of their drama. However, many critics (myself included) felt that their issues almost went too far, with some saying Jay-Z's "condoms in the baby seat" comment was over the line. I took it for what it was: snaps on his opponent, but apparently even Jay's MOM got into it. Maybe that's when the line should be drawn, eh? Shawn Carter and Nasir Jones were both extremely popular emcees and at the height of their respective successes, but the talk that circulated around hip-hop and the two of them was immense. So LL and Canibus won, Nas and Jay-Z won. Tupac and Biggie didn't.

That last sentence is what brought to me to my current mindset: rely on skills and skills alone to rise up in the ranks of hip-hop. In my opinion, that's what Nicki Minaj is doing. I don't see her trying to climb onto another female emcee's back or trying to insult anyone just to get a rep. Lil Kim, on the other hand, seems to be battling at Nicki to try and get her name BACK up. I say give it up. If anything, why not be a mentor, help her with her strengths and work on her flaws? Even though I've never been a Lil Kim fan, even I can't deny her commercial success of the nineties and early 00's. Her sun has set, however, and she should retire gracefully. That isn't to say that she can't still be relevant. MC Lyte has been in the game for over two decades and has branched out into many other formats of entertainment, including occasionally still performing. The same goes for Queen Latifah. I don't see either of them verbally assaulting Nicki Minaj or anyone else in the game, for that matter. So why must Lil Kim do it?

Kimberly, give it up. Your time is effectively over as far as mainstream success is concerned. For now, Nicki is the forseeable future of females in hip-hop: let her have it. She respects you, we all know this. There's no need to play the angry, disgruntled, spurned ex wife. You're just making yourself look foolish, in my opinion and in the opinions of many others. Besides, would you rather someone discuss your current collabos with one of the hottest acts in hip-hop today or talk about how you are playing yourself with corny mixtapes (that we ALL know nobody with any sense is going to pay ten dollars for)? I'd say the former is better than the latter.

According to the late, great Frank White aka Notorious B.I.G., beef is when you need two gats to go to sleep and your mother isn't safe in the streets and you've got a promised and extended hospital stay in the Intensive Care Unit. The BoogeyMan aka Mos Def puts a more realistic spin on it and says it's when you don't have the money to pay your bills or when a soldier with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder commits suicide. Two very different views by two very esteemed MCs...so why are we focusing on Lil Kim and Nikki Minaj? More so, why is either of them focusing on the other? What happened to doing hip-hop for hip-hop's sake?

06 March 2011

Review: @DCisOnTheWay

This cat @DCisontheway (from Oklahoma City though, not the nation's capital) hit me up on Twitter the other day, randomly asking me to give his mixtape a listen. He provided the link and I'm providing the review. Let me start off by saying that I had low expectations going into this. I'm not particularly fond of people who don't follow me but will send me requests for stuff. I don't do it and I don't think others should either. However, I needed a review for this week and this just fell into my lap. Let's get it...

Even though I am originally from the Midwest, I don't know anything about the rap scene out there. Some people are quick to throw up Nelly and Chingy, but where are they now? So, I figured I'd at least come into this with an open mind. I mean, he could actually be about something, right? He wasn't.

There were four tracks on the site that he directed me to and as soon as the first one started playing, all I heard was guns, drugs, bitches and money. Now, I've never been to Oklahoma and I'm not one to say there are no ghettos there, I'm sure there are. However, to start off your mix by blasting my ears with this incessant and violent commotion is a big no-no, especially when dealing with a hip-hop head like me. Mr. DCisOnTheWay: you invited me to listen to your album; perhaps you should have done a little research first.

The first track, Presidential, leads off with the aforementioned usual ghetto garbage and the one thing that kept running through my head was: what aspect of ANY of this is presidential? The lyrics are of the typical recycled sort found in many songs nowadays. The beat underneath is nothing special, either.

The second track, lovingly entitled Pack Yo' Bags, fares no better on the lyrical tip. The flow is simple and extremely dumbed down. The track samples an old Ashanti song, which was a nice touch, although it's a sound that has been done before. I was a bit confused as to the cast when listening to this song. I couldn't tell if there was one artist changing his flow and sound up many times or many artists doing their thing. On top of that, I couldn't understand much of what was being said in one verse, there was so much yelling. There was one bit that I liked, a change-up in the flow of the second verse.

When I saw the title of the third song, Deep, I became intrigued. Maybe we would see this thug's introspective and urban philosophical side. I was quickly corrected and subsequently disappointed. It's a song about sex. *ahh..."deep;" I get it now!* I thought the beat for this one was fire; that was a saving grace. I was pleasantly surprised and were it not for the awful use of Auto Tune on the hook, I'd give this track another listen for the beat alone.

Number four should have been number one to me. You Already Know: it starts off hard and actually had me bobbin my head, but it went downhill immediately after the intro. It saved itself a little once the second verse came in. If I put myself in my "hood mentality," then I have to say the hook is hot. I like the track under it as well, but the lyrics are lacking in many places. "I don't rap no more/ I call this making art." Really? I'll reserve my more harsh comments about lines such as those.

In closing, this guy (or guys: I still don't know if this is a person or a group) needs more work. Whoever his production team is has their stuff on point for the most part. Their lyrics are lacking, however. If this is something that is intended to be long term, then I'd suggest they go back to the drawing board and work on their timing, delivery and content. You don't have to push rhymes like Mos Def and Black Thought, but you don't have to try and be the next Gucci or Wacka Flocka Flame, either.

Do Better rating: ** (out of five stars, and one and a half of those is for the beats)