29 October 2015

VIDEO: Fashawn - 100 Bars

Fashawn appears to be the next California emcee ready join the new wave of talent coming out of the west. With a solid catalog and a critically acclaimed studio debut (09's LP, Boy Meets World), Fash started the year by joining Nas' Mass Appeal imprint and dropping his second LP, The Ecology, in February. The Fresno emcee just wrapped up his The Ecology European tour and is back in the lab putting pen to paper. How do I know this? Last month Fashawn put some visuals to the single 100 Bars. Fash spits BARS over an instrumental of Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt single, Coming Of Age. The emcee comes correct knowing that this track would be linked to the classic Jay-Z song.

Just peep the video below. Beast. And I'm also throwing up Coming Of Age as well, because..well why not?

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REVIEW: Scarface - Deeply Rooted

Hip hop is a young man's game. This phrase is echoed in many interviews from multiple emcees. Next month Scarface will turn 45 and will have been in the game for over 25 years. Even though he was not in the first incarnation of the Geto Boys (honestly I only learned that after some research), Face is still considered one of the "original three". Most recognize Scarface, Willie D and Bushwick Bill as the core members of the Geto Boys because it was this combination that spawned the group's most successful single, Mind Playing Tricks On Me. Since then, Face has gone on to be the best-selling solo emcee to come out of Texas. Deeply Rooted is Face's twelfth studio album, after a 7 year gap from Emeritus in 08.

I wasn't sure what tracks I wanted to highlight, so I'll start off with the track that's playing in my headphones right now. The single Steer has a religious theme, with the chorus ending in, "Lord if you hear me, steer." The first verse presents Scarface as someone who is grateful and content with his place in life. His finances are straight, he has the support of a good woman and he was able to get to his position by staying true to himself. But there is always that doubt of his past dealings coming back to affect him now. The track transitions for the next two verses with Face going through a violent situation in real time. He has been shot and is running from his attackers. In his panicked state he comes across the police who view him as a threat as well. Face is aware that his situation is still very deadly but will face his destiny head on. One of the final bars is, "I rather be carried by 6 than judged by 12." This bar explains that Scarface would rather die (normally there are 6 pallbearers who carry a casket) than go to prison (there are 12 jurors in a jury).

One of the three bonus tracks is called Mental Exorcism. The simple guitar instrumental allows Scarface to "exorcise" his feelings. Face touches on complex subjects like: hustling/street life, suicide, isolation, teenage pregnancy, prison, death, parenting, hell/heaven, religion, racism, news propaganda and police brutality. Scarface is not just able to speak about his time in the rap game, he is also able to observe and report on the trials and tribulations of everyday life. While it seems that lately the news has been inundated with horrible and negative stories, Scarface knows that there are segments of the population whose reality has been this way for a long time. Face has been through so much, he has seen so much, and this tracks serves as a therapy session for him to let out what he has been observing for most of his life.

In an interview about Deeply Rooted (and other topics), Scarface said, "I don't feel like I have to fit in. I don't even feel like I even should fit in." If everyone is making tracks that talk about women, cars and money in every other word, he is going to do the opposite. Yes, there is a place and time to create tracks about braggadocio and to flaunt your wealth and hit the club, but Scarface feels that right now is not the time. He feels that the majority of the nation can't relate to flashy decadent stories that boast excess material gain. So in a landscape of McDonald's rap (the same simple formula of watered down songs that flood the airways), it is a relief to get a conceptual album full of substance. Face might not be doing a Geto Boys album anytime soon (or at all for that matter, according to what Scarface said after a failed Geto Boys Kickstarter), but the Texas emcee will continue to add to his legend with solid albums like Deeply Rooted.

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19 October 2015

REVIEW: The Game - The Documentary 2 & The Documentary 2.5

Ten years after the release of his debut album The Documentary, The Game tackles the daunting task of crafting a sequel that will live up to its namesake with The Documentary 2. At this point, The Game officially has enough longevity under his belt to accurately assess his position in Hip-hop. His career has seen its share of ups and downs, from his affiliation with G-Unit seeming like a match made in heaven, to him supposedly being kicked out forcing him to keep his brand solidified on his own. Both The Documentary and Doctor's Advocate hold up very well to this day, but notable whiffs like LAX, Jesus Piece, and Blood Moon: Year of the Wolf taint any possibility of heralding Game as a legend. His impact on the West Coast cannot be denied though, as he is single-handedly responsible for maintaining its pulse over the past decade, as well as lending a hand in cultivating the younger talent that has emerged in the past five years. All things considered, it was still tough to believe that a sequel to one of his most beloved albums would impress being that arguably his only decent project since Doctor's Advocate has been The R.E.D. Album in 2011.

I can say with the utmost confidence that The Documentary 2 shatters any notion that Jayceon can no longer craft a great project. The quality of The Documentary 2 and the attention to detail is impressive, and consistent throughout. From the production, to the contrast in sound between the two discs, it's evident The Game set out to raise the bar for what a sequel to a classic should sound like, as well as a double album. Jay-Z's The Blueprint 2 in 2002 displayed exactly what not to do when going this same route, and it's clear The Game took note and came well-prepared for the criticisms that would accompany his decision to try something most artists have failed at. Simply put, The Documentary 2 is nothing short of a stellar achievement.

Sonically, the first disc runs the gamut of the history of all regions of Hip-hop. The Primo-laced title track "Documentary 2," gives you a taste of the gritty golden era, while the melodic trap ballads of modern day are represented on the hook of "Dedicated." Some might take issue with the production off the bat, as there is an abundance of 90s samples on the first four tracks. Some of these, like the Screamin Jay Hawkins sample heard on "Standing On Ferraris," have been completely run into the ground over the years. Then there are others, like the Kendrick Lamar-assisted "On Me," which samples Erykah Badu's "On & On," that are executed masterfully. Regardless of production, one thing you'll notice right off the bat are how much Game has stepped up the BARS. Maybe this can be attributed to the recent revival of lyricism in Hip-hop, or it could simply be a product of Game's individual growth as an artist, but his cadences and wordplay are stronger than they have ever been. There's still no shortage of name drops scattered across the entire project, but like always, it's easily forgiven because the songs themselves are fantastic, with very few missteps.

Speaking of which, the song "Hashtag" has no place on this album. Jelly Roll's ad-libs and chorus line are borderline cringe-worthy, and completely throw off an otherwise cohesive project. Game also dumbs-down his cadences to radio trap status on "Mula," which also features a horrific hook sung by Kanye Kardashian. This super weirdo Yeezus type shit simply cannot be considered music in my opinion, but hey thanks for trying Jayceon. Luckily the title song "The Documentary 2" immediately follows, and is an absolute banger. "LA," which features Snoop Dogg, Will.I.Am., and Fergie, caps off an amazing first disc appropriately. It would have been a fitting outro to the nineteen track sequel, but in reality, it's only the halfway mark...

...because The Documentary 2.5 is eighteen more tracks of pure fire. After announcing the release The Documentary 2, The Game revealed on the radio that he would be dropping a double album, with the second disc dropping a week after the first. Usually a double album is sold as a single unit, with two discs packaged together, so it was curious as to why Game would separate their releases by a week. But after only a few tracks into The Documentary 2.5, it's evident that this is far more than a collection of throwaways that didn't make the first disc. He has managed to pretty much give us two entire album-quality projects, each worthy of existing independent of one another. The Game is literally over-achieving at this point, and fans are the ones reaping the benefits. If the sound on the first disc captured the essence of Hip-hop outside of California, then The Documentary 2.5 is a pure ode to the history of the West Coast.

At about the half-way mark, Game takes us back to the infamous W BALLS radio station made famous on Snoop Dogg's debut album Doggystyle back in 1993, with a three minute interlude that leads right into a slew of west coast bangers that make you feel like you're reliving the early 90s all over again. DJ Quik's iconic production gets things started on "Quik's Groove," with a beat that's so summertime smooth, it'll make you wish you owned a drop top cadillac hittin' switches in the streets of Los Angeles.  Whether it's "Outside" ft. E-40, "Up On The Wall" ft. YG, or "Gang Bang Anyway" ft. Jay Rock & ScHoolboy Q, there is no shortage of west coast 'slappers' all over The Documentary 2.5. If you were ever a fan of any G-Funk era artist from Cali, you will absolutely love this second disc. Even if you are the type that prefers gritty hood tales, those are also well represented with "The Ghetto" ft. Nas, "Gang Related," and "Last Time You Seen" ft. Scarface. If that wasn't enough, The Game includes a lone bonus track in "El Chapo," and completely slaughters the beat in one of the most impressive songs I have heard from him to date.

Typically, the average listener reaches fatigue after enduring thirty-plus songs from a single artist. It's usually too much to absorb at one time, but The Game's strategic arrangement coupled with a genius marketing scheme made it so that we were able to enjoy all this music without it feeling overbearing. This is another album in which it will be interesting how well it holds up five-to-ten years from now, but since The Game shows notable growth as an artist from a lyrical standpoint and his overall ability to craft a great song, The Documentary 2 & 2.5 might end up being his greatest body of work.  

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VIDEO: Grafh - Lord of Mercy

I've been a fan of Grafh since the early-mid 00s. The Jamaica Queens emcee cultivated a strong fan base through the mixtape game and released his debut mixtape The Oracle with DJ Green Lantern in 04. Grafh has been dropping tracks consistently since. Even though his 07 debut album didn't make a huge blip on the hip hop radar, he is still able to put together a solid mixtape. And while he might not have the recognition from the mainstream scene, he has been on tracks with some of the strongest emcees in the game: Raekwon, Murda Mook, Styles P, Loaded Lux, Joe Budden, Bun B, Royce Da 5'9, Papoose, Jadakiss, Crooked I and Busta Rhymes.

Grafh has been teasing a follow up to his critically acclaimed 2011 mixtape Pain Killers for a few years now. It seems that Grafh put some money into the production of the Lord of Mercy video, so that bodes well for those of us hoping that Grafh's Pain Killers 2 will hit the streets sooner rather than later. The single itself is a percussion heavy track with a sort of ominous tone. Grafh lays down his usual strong bars accompanied by a melodic hook. The video is very dark and takes place primarily in a church (playing off of the "lord" theme). The scene is broken up with different shots of Grafh hanging out on various blocks.

Peep video for Lord of Mercy below. And just because, I'm also throwing up the video for Control (I'll Body You). The response to Kendrick Lamar's verse on the track Control.

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16 October 2015

REVIEW: Jadakiss - #T5DOA

This week Jadakiss dropped the mixtape #T5DOA (Top 5 Dead or Alive), as well as a music video for the single Jason. We assume Jason will appear on Jada's upcoming LP, Top 5 Dead or Alive. But this album has been "upcoming" for a few years now (it's def not Detox status, but come on man). The freestyle mixtape #T5DOA could be the appetizer for the Yonkers emcee's 4th solo studio album. It is comprised of new and newish freestyles over beats from Jay Z, Nas, ODB, and Drake songs (and others, and 2 or so original tracks). If you search for Top 5 Dead or Alive mixtape, you will see MANY unofficial tapes. But none are on his official list (which consist of 6 mixtapes, including #T5DOA). If this is truly Jada's first release with the "Top 5" reference, one can only hope the LP is not too far behind. During the NBA's All Star Weekend (February 2015), Jada said in a Sway interview that the album would drop "when the weather breaks". So summer 2015. Nope. Fall is here, so the last "weather break" would be winter (December 22nd).

As far as mixtapes go, #T5DOA follows the tried and true formula (freestyle flows over a collection of some of the hottest instrumentals). Jada showcases his emcee ability with his balance of conscious street lyrics. His word play, flow, sentence structure and arrangements are (and have always been) at the apex of the emcee chain. As far as features you can of course expect the other two thirds of the LOX, Sheek Louch and Styles P (Jada and Styles knock out another great back and forth track). But there are also features from Rick Ross, Fabolous, Nino Man, Dyce Payne and Swizz Beatz.

The LOX have always mastered the underground sound and vibe. Even though they have experienced some commercial success, they have always stayed true to their sounds and kept making music for their day one fans. You can add #T5DOA to the LOX's catalog of steady bangers. If you're a Jada fan, def scoop this up.

Peep album stream below, as well as Jason music video.

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15 October 2015

VIDEO: 2015 BET Awards Cypher

Once again the BET Awards have come and gone. I honestly don't ever remember when it airs so I end up catching up during the rest of the week. But the segment that everyone checks for are the cyphers. This has probably been the most creative pairings I've ever seen. I don't know if there were only 4, (sorry I know that's lazy) but that's how many I have below. I have them ranked from my favorite to meh. The Doug E. Fresh beat box joint was FUEGO. Rahzel and Nicole (first time I've seen her) add their skills to the OG Fresh. The Def Squad cypher makes my #2 spot solely for Redman. Erick Sermon and Keith Murray are good, but Redman KILLS it. Black Thought teams up with Broadway entertainers from the play Hamilton. All three thespians are very gifted lyrically but are overshadowed by Thought who takes the last leg of the freestyle (really Black Thought and Redman cyphers could get interchanged). And the young guns Vince Staples, King Mez, J-Doe, Raury & Casey Veggies take my final spot. Overall as a whole though, this has been a better showing across the board. 

So peep the illness below.

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VIDEO: Talib Kweli ft Rapsody - Every Ghetto

Yesterday Talib Kweli dropped some visuals to his Rapsody assisted track Every Ghetto. The track once again pairs Talib with his Reflection Eternal producer, Hi-Tek. The album is called Indie 500 and will drop next month. The title track is also the name of the collective of three independent labels: Talib Kweli's Javotti Media, 9th Wonder's Jamla Records and Pharoahe Monch's W.A.R. Media. All three camps are known for underground, independent and conscience music. This umbrella extends to other like minded emcees, similar to the Native Tongues movement of the late 80s/early 90s. The Native Tongues incorporated many crews but started with the foundation of the Jungles Brothers, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. In many ways Indie 500 wants to recreate the positive message from the Native Tongues movement. We at BITM try to stay away from the hip pop news that engulfs the internet. We prefer to report/promote hip hop that we actually appreciate. On paper Indie 500 has everything in place to make a strong impact on the watered down hip hop landscape. Financially it might not do as well as a Drake/Future (right? or 2 Chainz?) album, but that has never been a real barometer for hip hop heads. So here's hoping for the start of a visible shift in the culture and music.

Peep music video for Every Ghetto below, as well as an interview with 9th, Talib and Monch.

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03 October 2015

REVIEW: Jay Rock - 90059


Another TDE cycle is officially in the books. Anyone who has followed the journey is aware of Top Dawg's strategic timing with releases amongst their artist. It was announced all six artsits would see a release in 2014 but maybe that was a little too ambitious at the time. Still though, it's crazy to witness the first Top Dawg artist to step on the scene get leap-frogged and lapped by nearly everyone else on the roster. But the truth is, there would be no ScHoolboy Q without Kendrick Lamar, and there would be no Kendrick Lamar without Jay Rock. The ground work had to be laid with Rock taking risks and sacrifices to help eventually mold the identity of Top Dawg Entertainment. His first album Follow Me Home took around three years to make, and was so well received that fans have been wondering if he could repeat the same magic again.

I'll just start this off by saying Jay Rock's sophomore project 90059 isn't "great." It certainly is a good display of who Jay Rock has become over the past few years that the label has grown. It's also evident that he is steady searching for his identity in this game, but his first project Follow Me Home was just a better album, plain and simple. He has almost fallen into the same trap Ab-Soul dealt with last summer with These Days... being an extremely poor follow-up to Control System. Now that's not to say that 90059 is bad, because tracks like his collab with Busta Rhymes on "Fly on the Wall," "Gumbo," and "Money Trees Deuce" are undeniable. The problem is, overall it feels like Jay Rock is forcing himself to change before the masses even get a chance to know who he is. 90059 doesn't feel like a proper studio release. I'm a firm believer that if an artist is truly talented, their 2nd album should show growth and really knock it out the park. At the very least, it should not be an enormous step backward when compared to their first. Follow Me Home, much like Soul's Control System were released prematurely in my opinion. These are both albums that essentially embody who they are as artists, and maybe should have been shelved until TDE's breakout party in 2014.  ScHoolboy Q's Oxymoron showed such an enormous leap in quality from his indie albums, and Kendrick continues to top himself every time he steps out there.

What I'm saying is, TDE has the world's ear now. So it's a shame to see half the squad not show up like they have the capability to. 90059 is a good Jay Rock album, but Jay Rock is better than 90059, if that makes sense. It's a shame because for the most part only long-time TDE fans and true music heads will ever go back to Follow Me Home. I wonder what things would be like if his albums were swapped? Would he still be seen as the 4th member of TDE, or would he be properly viewed as the the label's 1st? It's silly to think like that though, because the bottom line is Jay Rock just needs to do better. It seems 90059 is being well-received, which bodes well for Rock, but it's not an accurate representation of what he's capable of. Jay Rock has the ability and the ear to craft excellence, and as a fan of the movement it is upsetting to not see him take full advantage of his moment the way ScHoolboy Q did with Oxymoron.
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