31 December 2015

Skillz - 2015 Rap Up

Years ago, the artist from Richmond, VA known as Mad Skillz said he was retiring his famous "Rap Up" series. Years later, he still has yet to skip a single year of releasing them LOL. It's crazy to think that Skillz has been dropping year-end wrap ups for nearly fifteen years now, each installment more hilarious than the last. What's even more wild is the fact hardly no one knows that the guy actually has real music of his own, but the "Rap Up" series has become such a huge part of his identity that he has no one to blame but himself.

The "2015 Rap Up" shows Skillz literally hitting every major event in our society, for better or worse, that defined the year that was. From the color of that dumb ass dress to the white girl who identifies as a black girl even after she got exposed as a white girl. Skillz starts off strong with probably the most hilarious intro to a "Rap Up" ever, but to avoid any spoilers here, just peep the link below.
HAPPY NEW YEAR from Best In The Mix!

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24 December 2015

REVIEW: Erykah Badu - You Caint Use My Phone

CALL HIM...hold on...
But you caint use MY Phooooone...

A line from Erykah Badu's iconic freestyle "Tyrone" off of 1997's Live album has easily been one of the most memorable lines in her twenty-plus year career. It is also the song most long-time fans identify with the most. As a result, the Queen has found a way to reel in her long-time fan base by revisiting her biggest record and marrying it with a relateable theme to the modern listener. You Caint Use My Phone is Erykah's first project after a five year hiatus from music. Her previous releases, New Amerykah Parts I & II in 2008 and 2010 respectively, were originally supposed to be a part of a trilogy. The third album in the series never materialized as Erykah had grown weary of placing a time table on her work. She had also taken a five year hiatus between 2003's Worldwide Underground and 2008's New Amerykah Part One (4th World War). These gaps in releases often cause fans to wonder "Where has Erykah been!?" Many aren't even aware her last two albums exist due to no chart topping singles and only one identifiable song "Window Seat," but even that song is only popular for Badu letting her ass cheeks out in the video. Needless to say, the Queen has been gone for far too long.

Erykah has brought back that eclectic vibe on You Caint Use My Phone, but instead of hitting fans over the head with thought provoking social commentary, she uses this technologically driven era (with heavy influence from a popular Drake hit) to pen covers of popular phone-related classics, shining light on society's reliance upon devices to communicate. If there was an underlying theme to this tape, it is that we are losing the ability to communicate face to face effectively due to mobile devices.

This tape blends R&B, Jazz, Electronica, Hip-hop, Trap, and Soul together in a way that makes it one of her most listenable projects ever. It probably won't go down as a classic in her catalogue, but it is more than enough to re-introduce herself to a new generation. The intro vamps the famous line from "Tyrone," solidifying the theme early. After a brief interlude with "Hi," Badu jumps into her rendition of Drake's "Hotling Bling" with "Cel U Lar Device." Now this is just my opinion, but this is a far better version than Drake's clown-fest, mostly because she does so much more with the song creatively and vocally.

You Caint Use My Phone is littered with similarly-themed covers such as New Edition's "Mr. Telephone Man," and Usher's "U Don't Have To Call," but her original songs on the tape are the ones you will be revisiting the most. "Phone Down" hilariously pokes fun at people who can't resist burying their faces in their phones when they are in a setting where everyone should be socializing.

Some may wonder why Drake was chosen as her main guest star on this project, but it seems she uses his influence to help her bridge the generational gap. There also seems to be a mutual respect of each other's talent, as Drake has extended verses on two tracks in addition to Badu covering one of his songs. His features pale in comparison to the surprise found on the mixtape's final track "Hello." The unicorn known as Three Stacks appears in a long overdue duet that perfectly fits both of their styles, and is a great song to conclude with. This probably isn't a hint that Andre 3000 is working on anything himself, but it's always nice to know that the guy still cares about (and can still help create) great music.

You Caint Use My Phone is a very short listen, clocking in at only 36 mins long, but it accomplishes much in that short amount of time that will keep listeners coming back. Seeing a legend become inspired again is always great for fans. Let's just hope the Queen doesn't take another five-year break before blessing us with something else.

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22 December 2015

VIDEO: Pusha T - Darkest Before Dawn

Last Friday Pusha T dropped Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, his second solo LP under the G.O.O.D. Music imprint. This album serves as the...prelude (you got it, just shout it out when you know it) to his much anticipated King Push album. While he felt his first solo LP My Name Is My Name should have won 'Album Of the Year', Pusha T feels that King Push has a greater chance to garner the accolade. Darkest Before Dawn was only announced about a month ago, while the King Push album has been in the works since 2014. At the time of this post, King Push is slated for an April release. Fingers crossed until then. I haven't had time to scoop up Darkest Before Dawn (plan to get on that this week), but I have heard a handful of tracks. While he has many solid singles, Push decided to go another route to promote the album. The Virginia spitter and G.O.O.D. Music president followed the music video to Crutches, Crosses, Caskets with a mini movie. He linked up with NY director Kid Art to use Darkest Before Dawn tracks to use as backdrops for cinematic short. It is a very stylized video with quick snippets of Push laying down bars to some of the album highlights. Kid Art put together a script staring Push and rest is history.

Peep the clip below. And stay tuned for Darkest Before Dawn review.

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03 December 2015

REVIEW: Talib Kweli & 9th Wonder - Indie 500

Last month emcee Talib Kweli and producer 9th Wonder teamed up to create the collab LP and group Indie 500 (I thought this union also included Pharoahe Monch, but he is only featured on one song...so maybe not?). As I mentioned in a previous post for the album's single, Every Ghetto, Indie 500 is suppose to be the 2015 (I guess we can really start calling it the 2016) Native Tongues. The foundation of the Native Tongues of the late 1980s comprised of the hip hop groups the Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest. This collective is credited with giving birth to "conscious hip hop". The Native Tongue umbrella grew to include emcees and groups like: Monie Love, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep, Brand Nubian, The Roots, Leaders of the New School, Mos Def, Common and The Pharcyde. And this tangent was brought to you by..bored at work with A.D.D. Well, yes and no. I am both, but this mini history lesson is important because if this new collective means to build upon the Native Tongues tradition and legend, then you should know the reference. 9th Wonder makes the clear connection, “Indie 500 is a kind of continuation of the Native Tongues sound all the way to the Rawkus sound. Badu, Jill Scott, Slum Village — anywhere that has that texture of sound that feels good with good lyrics — Indie 500 is a continuation of that and a new generation. We’re trying to continue on the tradition of classic — what they like to call ‘traditional’ — hip-hop. Grass roots, deep-rooted hip-hop music.”

The intro track, Which Side Are You On, features St Louis (Ferguson) emcee Tef Poe, singer Kendra Ross and production by VA emcee/producer Nottz. The track starts off with the chant "Which side are you on, friend? Which side are you on?/ Which side are you on, friend? Which side are you on?/ Justice for Mike Brown, justice for us all/ Justice for Mike Brown, justice for us all." This chant has been tailored for many occasions, to bring attention to public outcries that normally involve social and civil injustices. This track of course samples a recording (or at least that's what it appears like to me) from a gathering of people protesting and mourning the death of 18 year old Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson police officer on August 9th, 2014. Social activist and poet (and wife and daughter of coal miners) Florence Reece wrote Which Side Are You On? in 1931 to support the miners Harlan County strike. Folk singer and activist Pete Seeger was the first to record the song in 1940 and since then the song has gone through many iterations of singers and lyrics. Lyrically this song is very straightforward and candid. Kweli asks (and makes the blunt statement), "How a kid without a gun become a threat to cops/ When they let off shots, hoping that his head will pop and that his breath will stop?/ Gotta be satisfied with waiting until we get the verdict/ It's just perverted, no justice for the family of the kid they murdered." Talib Kweli has always been known as political and conscious, and to introduce the album with this track sets a precedence for the entire album and the Indie 500 movement as a whole.

It makes sense that 9th Wonder would want to continue with the Native Tongues' message because both also have ties with the Zulu Nation (who also strive to promote a positive hip hop culture on an international level). And by joining forces with Talib Kweli, this new collective adds a progressive dynamic to the mix. While the Native Tongues promoted good times/lyrics, positive messages and celebrating individualism, Indie 500 unfortunately has to address the current state of the nation. Of course it is important to have a good time and enjoy the day to day. But it also makes sense that conscious minded artists have an obligation to evolve with the times. Turning a blind eye to the realities of the new day to day would be a disservice. To continue the De La Soul fun and positivity is necessary or else we would be all gloom and doom. And no one wants to constantly be depressed and negative. But we also need some NWA and Public Enemy at the forefront too. And I think Indie 500 has the foundation to be this updated movement. They can be the movement that continues to promote and champion good lyrics and songs, but they also have the politically conscious intelligence to bring the serious and critical messages to the masses too. This album is a well crafted introduction to a movement that can fill a crucial gap missing in hip hop (pause?). 9th crafts the bulk of the sound for the album. Other Jamla producers and Nottz follow suite and create a synthesized sounds that tie the album together flawlessly. There are no mainstream features either (I guess Rapsody and Pharoahe Monch would be the "mainstreamier" emcees). Instead Talib Kweli is joined by like emcees with similar skill sets in terms of messages and storytelling. This album is definitely not made for the club or for radio spins. And unfortunately the demographic that this album is meant for appears to be in the minority. But for those few, end the year off right and take Indie 500 for a spin. 

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02 December 2015

REVIEW: Logic - The Incredible True Story

Maryland native Logic helps solidify 2015 as one of the greatest years in Hip-hop. A year after his strong debut album Under Pressure, which earned 4.5 Mics from BITM, the artist also known as Young Sinatra refuses to allow his buzz to fade by offering his follow-up entitled The Incredible True Story. He presents this album as a futuristic tale where two people are in a spaceship searching for a habitable planet called Paradise, as humans have exhausted all of Earth's resources and are forced to find another planet that can sustain life. During the journey, the pilot and co-pilot are listening to oldies, which include Logic's first album. Toward the end of the intro, the pilot insists that he is about to listen to the second album, which leads into the first official song "Fade Away."

It's an odd choice as a concept for an album, and it almost feels like Logic's love for Sci-Fi ruined his sense of structure, as the concept is already imploding on itself by the end of the first track. The album is littered with skits here and there, fleshing out a story that never really ties in with the musical content itself. Even more convoluted is the fact that the stars of this screenplay, which is supposed to take place 100 years in the future, are actually listening to The Incredible True Story. Since these skits are a part of the album, this literally means that the characters in the story are listening to themselves...from 100 years in the past...right? (Cue Tim Allen grunt from Home Improvement).

It's a paradox I don't think even Logic considered, but it forced me to completely separate the Sci-Fi crap from the actual music because there is no cohesion between the two. The effort put into the concept of this album should have been redistributed toward something more impactful and relevant, instead of it coming across as an empty fan project. It's as if he included the story as his only means of differentiating this album from Under Pressure, because without the narrative, The Incredible True Story is essentially nothing more than Under Pressure II. This isn't necessarily a good or bad thing, though, as the problems with Young Sinatra's sophomore album are deeper than what is on the surface.

I'll preface this by saying Logic's production and lyricism have never been stronger. He slays nearly every track, and it is easy to want to fall in love with this album on your first playthrough, but an incisive ear will spot a major flaw in his music. So much love and care was placed into the concept, the production, and razor sharp bar for bar lyricism that not enough time was devoted to making the listener truly understand what Logic is about. The Incredible True Story is more of a marriage of styles borrowed from the greats he idolizes, as well as his contemporaries. This fact keeps the album from feeling as exciting as the production suggests it should be. It was forgiveable on Under Pressure, but Logic needs to understand that an impressive display of lyrics over a nice beat is no longer enough to set yourself apart in the current climate of Hip-hop. He has obviously mastered the art of crafting a project that sounds amazing to the casual listener, yet the styles he borrows from tend to cater more toward the hardcore audience.

That's not to say The Incredible True Story is a bad album by any stretch, it's actually a very good listen. It may even be better than Under Pressure, but a lot of that credit is owed to production. The major issue that existed with his first album continues to plague this one as well, and that's the fact that an artist's purpose and direction need to be clear, or at least exist in some form, if they expect everyone to appreciate their music on the highest level. It appears this album is nothing more than him spitting rapid fire bars that often tend to get swallowed up by cadences and content that lack originality, versatility and substance.

There are songs like "Run It" where he addresses those who he feels wrongfully tear down his music with simple lines like, "I been at it for the people who been lovin my shit / not the people that been hatin, they can suck my d*ck!" It's not so much that anyone is hating, because the bulk of this album is undeniable. Logic is simply held to a higher standard as an artist BECAUSE of his talent, so it's almost like he shouldn't be allowed to continue to take the safe route with his music. You see, The Incredible True Story sounds like it could be a masterpiece, but this is a surface level analysis. The reason his music must be dissected further is because his bold claims of greatness scattered throughout do not necessarily align with the product as a whole. He wants you to appreciate every punchline as well as the supposed storyline that moves the album along, but once you listen with an analytic ear you're almost left wondering...is that it? He is too gifted of an artist to remain in this comfortable pocket, and at some point will have to learn to raise the bar himself, instead of simply holding it up. Logic possesses all of the necessary tools and resources to be a trail blazer, yet he continues to play it safe.

Fortunately, much like Under Pressure, The Incredible True Story is meant to be enjoyed with minimal scrutiny. Since listenability is perhaps the most important factor, it's difficult to discredit this album even slightly. Logic appears to be working with an even larger budget on the production side this time around, and the entire project benefits from it. Substance may be scarce, but there are enough uplifting tracks like "Lord Willin'" and "Never Been" to help pad out the braggadocio. The Incredible True Story is good. It's actually really good. Unfortunately, until Logic grows into his own as an artist, it will be difficult to ever consider his music great, despite his immense talent.

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