24 March 2015

REVIEW: Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly

After the success of good kid m.A.A.d. city, Kendrick Lamar was placed in a position where he finally had the power to make a difference. He now has the ears of a broad audience and made the conscious decision to use that platform to shock the culture with his sophomore masterpiece, To Pimp a Butterfly. TDE mapped out a plan years ago that is playing itself out to near-perfection. With the exception of Jay Rock, everyone in the camp has seen a release in the past year. When Kendrick's first album was in full swing, I wondered if the rest of the team would be able to prove themselves before Kendrick dropped his second album and made them all irrelavent again. A year later, Ab-Soul, Isaiah Rashad, and SZA all dropped solid projects that did well, but ScHoolboy Q is the only other artist out of TDE who has made serious noise.

Despite this, Top Dawg has still been making the game his bitch. He manufactured a quick buzz for Ab-Soul through bullshit twitter beefs that became headlines making it seem like there was dysfunction within TDE, but Top and Soul admittedly orchestrated the fallout. For To Pimp a Butterfly, there are suspicions he released it a week early on purpose, then took to twitter again, this time trying to blame the "leak" on the label. The calibur of artists on TDE's roster individually have such enormous fanbases that Top Dawg's antics aren't even necessary, but they certainly haven't hurt. Honestly, anything that gets more people to listen to this album is fair game.

"I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence. Sometimes I did the same..."

The beginning of a poem that is pieced together throughout the entire album also serves as somewhat of a mission statement and a call to arms. Kendrick Lamar, an artist Best In The Mix has been championining since 2011, has not only lived up to every lofty expectation the Hip-hop community has placed upon him, he has managed to absolutely shatter them in an attempt to compile a body of work that will elevate the culture for years to come. It looks like our concerns about quality music being unable to make its way back to the forefront are being laid to rest right before us.

The immediate thing you notice when listening to this album is just how fonky the production is. He takes you on a journey through every major era in Black music while lyrically displaying an acute understanding of social and political contradictions. Kendrick shows us how we are "Institutionalized" over a straight ATLiens type beat, only to turn around and ask us if "These Walls" could talk over some late 70s funk.  The Dilla-esque banger "You Ain't Gotta Lie (Momma Said)" directly addresses those who still feel that their materials are a direct reflection of their value, when it's not even that serious. In an era where individualism is being embraced more than ever, it's a shame to see anyone who is still afraid to be themselves.

The beginning of To Pimp a Butterfly explores all of the sounds spanning four decades that ultimately constructed the artist we know as Kendrick Lamar, but the second half is more focused and has that gritty soulful shit that defines a classic. "Hood Politics" is one of the true standouts on the album that directly addresses a culture that prefers gossip bullshit over art.

"Everybody wanna talk about who this, and who that / Who the realest and who wack / Or who white and who black / Critics wanna mention that they miss when Hip-hop was rappin? / Motherfucker if you did, then Killer Mike would be platinum /  Yall priorities is fucked up, or energy in wrong shit / Hennessy and Crown Vic, my memory been gone since / Don't ask about no camera blocking at award shows / No don't ask about my bitch, no don't ask about my foes."

It's rare to see an album's best music pushed to the back, but it makes for an easy listen because it has your attention until the very end. "Mortal Man" may go down as one of the illest outros ever conceived. It poses the question "When shit hits the fan, is you still a fan?" causing you to wonder who would really be there for you if shit went down? "How clutch are the people who say they love you, and who pretending?" It also tackles how society and the government eliminated our heroes by assasinating their character to the public causing fans in America to turn their back on them, before closing out with an eerily realistic yet powerful conversation between Kendrick Lamar and Tupac Shakur.

Since 2012 we have witnessed a noticeable change in the status-quo.  J. Cole and K.Dot are uncomfortably sitting atop the Mt. Olympus of Hip-hop. I say uncomfortably because these types of artists aim to shift the landscape of Hip-hop and what fans should expect from an album. One could also say Drake is up there with the other two, but his affinity for recycled lyrics and subject matter may soon result in him fading into obscurity if To Pimp a Butterfly catches fire the way it has the power to.  It's time to acknolwedge the progress that has been made in only a few short years. GKMC gave K.Dot the platform to elevate the culture, lead the charge, and several acts have since followed TDE's formula.  On just a pure music level, To Pimp a Butterfly raises the bar that much more as Kendrick challenges his contemporaries and those on the come-up to demand great music, but also use your influence and your reach to inspire someone else to be great. "Want you to love me like Nelson, want you to hug me like Nelson, I freed you from being a slave in your mind, you're very welcome." Not only is To Pimp a Butterfly Kendrick Lamar's best work by far, it is without a doubt the most important Rap album of our generation.

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13 March 2015

LOCAL Artist: Jesse Hall/ Tre da G.O.A.T

"We from the murdawoods a.k.a. the mothership, West Chicagoland area. The tape is called Enter The Woods. My partner in crime is Tre Da G.O.A.T, and we bringing them funkadelic melodies cracking the system one code at a time."
Direct quotation from Jesse Hall. This is a very dope video from him & Tre Da G.O.A.T, together they form the group 3LG X ABE5000. This visual actually has a concept which isn't to frequent in many videos that exist today. Aside from the visual, this guy definitely has some skill when it comes to lyrics.  His flow over this beat is perfectly tailored to him. With an older Outkast sound to it, this is definitely an easy track to vibe to. The mixtape Enter The Woods, will be dropping next month so stay tuned! If you like listening to new local artists, this guy is definitely worth the listen.

Other credentials: Producer - Canis Major, Director - AyKid Shots

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11 March 2015

SINGLE: Ludacris - Beast Mode

March 2015 is looking to be an epic month in Hip-hop, with Action Bronson, Wale, and Kendrick Lamar all having album release dates toward the end of the month. One veteran who may be overshadowed by these young-uns is none other than Ludacris, who will be dropping his 9th studio album Ludaversal on March 31st. It's been an uphill battle for Ludacris the past five years or so after several album push backs and mixtape releases that garnered little to no buzz. There was a time in the early 2000s where it looked like Luda simply could not be stopped in this game, but the inevitable cycle eventually gave birth to far superior artists who made Luda's flow seem basic by comparison. Ludacris' career eventually began to coast in the latter half of the 2000s with luke-warm-to-average projects such as Release Therapy and Theater of the Mind, but the rebirth of lyricism these past five years have forced Luda to step his game up. His new single "Beast Mode" attempts to combat naysayers who feel as if he has fallen off. Don't get me wrong, the track is fire for 'Cris' standards, but will it be enough to catch the attention of fans and keep him from getting buried beneath the hype of Bronsolino, Wale, and the King Kendrick when their projects drop? Let us know how you feel.
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06 March 2015

SINGLE: Jay Electronica - Road to Perdition

One of the most fierce yet frustrating emcee's in recent years has finally released another track to keep fan's anticipation of him dropping a complete project from waning. Jay Electronica's reputation in the game is the embodiment of "Detox," a word that went from representing Dr. Dre's swan song to an all-out diss toward someone or something that, for whatever reason, refuses to deliver on promises for a certain number of years. People are so ready to crown Jay Elec off the strength of two singles, but after 5+ years we still have yet to receive a full lengh album from the New Orleans native. It's amazing how he is being hailed as one of the greats with such a near-non-existent body of work, but that speaks to how much of a monster this man is on the mic. Today we get "Road to Perdition," which has been on the track listing for his unreleased album Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn) for quite some time now. It's great to hear new music from Elec, but if he is going to continue to make us wait this long for new music, everything he drops better be on "Exhibit: A" status. Don't get me wrong, he goes off on this track, but for someone who isn't up on Jay Electronica hype, this song may not help them understand it any better. Listen below and let us know what you think...
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03 March 2015

REVIEW + STREAM: Fashawn - The Ecology

Last year the Mass Appeal imprint expanded their media reach by adding a record label to their magazine empire. The record labels debut album was Run the Jewels 2, from hip hop producer/emcee group El-P and Killer Mike. So who would follow up such a mighty album? Fresno's own, Fashawn. Fash has been in the mixtape scene since 06 but he debuted his first indie album, Boy Meets World, in 09. It received critical acclaim from all sectors of the hip hop landscape: other emcees, producers, magazines and websites. The Exiled produced album hailed Fashawn as a young emcee with an old soul. He eloquently articulated the struggles of an adolescent growing up in Fresno. But he also provided aspirational themes that contrasted the darker subject matter. Even before he signed to Mass Appeal Records last year, Fashawn's sophomore album, The Ecology, was a very anticipated album. Fashawn's buddy Exile helmed most of the production duties, but producers like Alchemist and DJ Khalil also blessed the album. 

After Fash's debut LP was praised for reaching near classic status, the pressure was one to follow up with a steady sophomore album. The Ecology's intro track Guess Who's Back displays an emcee who has evolved so much in just a few short years. Fashawn shows control of his flow and delivers seamless bars that address his love of hip hop, his growth from the hood, his aspirations, friends who passed, view as a role model and signing to Nas' label. The stand out track for me is Something to Believe In. The DJ Khalil instrumental is actually an Aloe Blacc song (of the same name) that never made it out of the demo stage. It was just a raw track with instrumentals from Aloe Blacc's band, and Khalil gave it that hip hop soul. Fashawn says that he knew he had to step his game up. Not just because the beat was inspirational, but his label boss Nas would pen a verse as well. Both emcees spit top shelf rhymes and we have no choice but to sit back and stamp it with a classic seal. Golden State of Mind was the first single I heard. Exiled was able to lay down an instrumental that was very reminiscent of that 90s west coast sound. Channeling his inner DJ Quik, Exiled created a super smooth track that makes you want to hop in a 6 4 and cruise straight to the beach. Fashawn enlists fellow Californian Dom Kennedy and both ride the track with a nostalgic flow. Lyrically Fash keeps his word play simple and compliments the instrumental with steady bars.

So did Fashawn conquer the sophomore slump? Si seƱor. People attest this jinx to the fact that you no longer have the element of surprise. Back in the day before you could become a YouTube rapper or throw your mixtape online, you couldn't reach that many people without a studio album. But once you did, people knew your name and your sound. Those that relied on gimmick raps were dead in the water after that. But Fash hangs his hats on raw lyrical talent and smart deliveries and an adaptable flow. Having the cosign from Nas also helps. Now that they will be working together in the same label (Nas as boss, Fash as artist) we can look forward to more Mass Appeal albums on the same level as The Ecology. And just like ecology is the study of "the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings", this album is a looking glass into Fashawn's hometown of Fresno. We see the overall social landscape created by years of underemployment, poor educational structures and rampant drug abuse. But Fashawn is also able to give us personal accounts of an atmosphere that breeds a cycle of poverty and addiction. Songs like Man of the House and Mother take us inside his four walls and paint an intimate portrait of his upbringing. Fashawn is only in his mid 20s and shows a range and intelligence of those twice his age. I look forward to see what the Cali emcee's next moves are, especially under the wing of Nas.

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