31 January 2016

REVIEW: Murs & 9th Wonder - Brighter Daze

Even with nearly 20 years under his belt, Murs is showing no signs of slowing down.  Since 2010 he has managed to release an astounding ten albums, which means some years have seen Murs dropping more than one project within the same year. 2015 was one of those years as his solo album Have A Nice Life came in May, and on December 31st fans were blessed with another Murs & 9th Wonder collab in Brighter Daze.

Needless to say, the Strange Music representative has been shooting like he can't miss.  His longevity is equal parts solo projects and collaborations, all of which manage to be consistent and maintain the essence of what any pure Hip-hop head looks for in an album.  It's great to see an artist thrive without a deal from a major record label, and Murs seems comfortable with the lane he has paved for himself.

The problem with Brighter Days, if any, is the fact that it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate Murs' projects from one another. The Final Adventure, Murs' previous collab with 9th Wonder, sounds similar to Brighter Daze, which resembles Murs' last solo project Have A Nice Life...so on and so forth.  Being that every project exemplifies Hip-hop in its purest, this isn't necessarily a horrible thing.  But there is something to be said for the art of surprise.  In most cases, not knowing what you are getting from a new album keeps anticipation high.  Instead Murs tends to focus on overall listenability with Brighter Daze.  Smooth crooner tracks like "Lover Murs" and "Get Naked," albeit brief, help shake up the monotony while the Rapsody-assisted "Walk Like A God" and "No Shots" with Mac Miller stand out as the only songs that feel modern amidst the boom-bap heard throughout the rest of the album.

It's hard to go wrong when Murs & 9th Wonder link up.  They are undoubtedly one of the most infallible duos in Hip-hop, and being that 2012's The Final Adventure clearly wasn't their last ride, we should expect more stellar collaborations between these two for years to come.
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In Case You Missed It: Rick Ross - Black Market

Longevity is something that is continuously questioned belonging to any artist of any genre of music. For most, it is a goal, and only a certain percentage actually gets to experience the feeling of a withstanding career. So many outside influences can affect an artists’ career such as lawsuits, private-life, publicity (particularly negative), overall health, creative space to name a few. Another obstacle that artists face is the quality v. quantity conflict. As an artists you want your music to mean something and be conveyed to the fans that are either purchasing your music/product(s), going to your shows or a combination of that and more. Artists like Gucci Mane or Lil Wayne have found a way to get both (through their respective die hard fan’s eye’s) OR they just completely disregard this troublesome travesty and flood the market with whatever they feel is the median between amount and virtue. For almost the past two calendar years Hip-Hop has been quietly graced with 5 full-length projects that are not to be underestimated. With stats dating back to December 2013 Rick Ross has dropped two highly anticipated mixtapes and three albums. The third album, Black Market, releasing earlier this month, adds to his productive streak.

Renzel, as he is going by nowadays, leans heavy on the Black Mafia sound that he has capitalized off of for majority of his career for this album. The first three songs feature appearances from fan-favorite Ross team up artists like John Legend, CeeLo Green and Nas that compliments his sound & musical signature. “Smile Mama, Smile” featuring CeeLo Green, is a very emotional track like its predecessor, “Tears of Joy,” though both very personal songs this is a strict ode to mama. Ross opens up to when he woke from unconsciousness after a health failure to Promethazine (lean), and how she made him promise to stop so she could continue to see her son’s success. Upon listening (whether initial or prior) the song will instantly remind you of Tupac’s “Dear Mama.” Not only does this song resonate with Pac’s dedication to his mother, Young Renzel references “you always was a Black Queen mama…” This song transitions into “One of Us” featuring Nas. If you’re a fan of Ross, you know that a Nas feature is among his best cameos. 

One song that can absolutely not be overlooked from this album is “Foreclosures.” With a J.U.S.T.I.C.E, League cameo this track is nothing less than countless other collaborations between these two parties. This track is definitely my favorite off of this album due to the amount of gems dropped on it. Ross laces young up and coming artists about the deals they are making with these labels & money grabbing lawyers and that if they were joining the MMG team, Ross won’t be screwing them over in their deal. “A real nigga, you gonna know that by the contract/ Bottom line blood, show me where them one’s at/ That paper it get funny when publishing is involved/ Mechanicals never mattered because that was your dog/  Now you hands-on, but things don’t ever seem right/ You make a call to give your lawyer the green light/ He look into it then hit you up with the bad news/ It’s so familiar he did the same with the last dudes…” In addition to all of Ross’ gems on here, this song could also double as subtle shots at 50 cent’s financial woes that he suffered from in 2015. Ross begins the song with “Learn to walk a tight rope/ Ever seen a rich nigga go broke?/ They putting liens on a nigga’s things / publicize your demise, and by all means…/“ With bars like this and one confirmed diss track already (Color Money dissing Drake and Birdman), we shouldn’t be surprised if these are real shots being sent to Curtis.

Ross has been on an amazing run with music. His whole MMG power roster (Meek Mill, Wale, Stalley, Gunplay and Omarion) has dropped albums within one year. This album just adds to his repertoire as an artist and wins for his team. Black Market wasn’t an album that creatively  set itself aside from any of Ross’ past projects. It aligns with his same Black Godfather approach that he has always taken but finds a way to make his sound still be appealing to fans. If you’re a fan of Ross, Black Market won’t be a disappointment.

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20 January 2016

SINGLE: Kanye West ft. Kendrick Lamar - No More Parties In L.A.

Although missing the GOOD Friday cut-off, on Monday Kanye West released the full version of his collaboration with Kendrick Lamar in "No More Parties in LA." Madlib's masterful production lends well to both Kanye and Kendrick's verses.  The song sounded like a heater in the sample at the end of "Real Friends" with that authentic 'Ye vibe we haven't heard since "Otis."

"I know some fans thought that I wouldn't rap like this again, but the writer's block is over, emcees cancel your plans."

Hearing this song makes me think he is able to bring his sound back to its roots at anytime, which makes it difficult to ever think he's off the deep end.  One thing we saw after 808s was Kanye reminding us he is still capable of cranking out classics with Twisted Fantasy.  There may be a similar relationship between Yeezus and his upcoming album SWISH in February.  Kanye has that safe zone that he can always return to if an experiment doesn't go so well, but it usually means great music for the listener.

We also get to hear Kendrick's entire verse, but 'Ye made sure he didn't get out-shined by the youngin' from Compton.  There's a certain versatility and pure genius in Ye's flow that had been missing for years, but "No More Parties in LA" is vintage Kanye West.  When you think about how great he once was, to the depths of ass he has sucked recently, it's still a shock that Kanye West has actually returned to making normal music again.  And I'm fine with how long it took.  Look, let him do shoes and fashion and throw temper tantrums.  You can't cage or muzzle a mind like his.  I can deal with self-serving rants about his rich guy problems.  I can even deal with an album or two like Yeezus and Cruel Summer as long as I know at some point Kanye gets back to making music more synonymous with his brand's M.O.

Peep "No More Parties in LA" ft. Kendrick Lamar in the Soundcloud link below.

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14 January 2016

VIDEO: MC Lyte - In Performance at the White House

While networks like Fox "News" (yes the quotes are on purpose) and such have called President Barack Obama the "rapper in chief" as an insult, the hip hop community can actually take that title as a compliment. More emcees have been invited to the White House under President Obama than any other president (I could also make the leap and say more than all other presidents combined. Do I have numbers to back it up? No. But it sounds right, don't it?). In some way or another, these hip hop artists have been in the White House during Obama's presidency: Kendrick Lamar, Killer Mike, Common, Ludacris, Queen Latifah, Doug E. Fresh, Wale, Jay Z and Big Sean. Big Sean was technically the first rapper to perform on White House property. He and then girlfriend, Ariana Grande, performed a song (that I'm sure was very popular) during the Easter Egg Roll in 2014. But who was the first emcee to perform inside those hallowed walls?

Last Friday (January 8th) PBS aired A Celebration of American Creativity: In Performance at the White House. This years celebration marks the 50th anniversary of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act. This vital and significant law was signed by President LBJ on September 29, 1965. The act gave birth to The National Endowment for the Humanities as an independent federal agency of the U.S. government. Along with the National Endowment for the Arts, these agencies are dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. For almost 40 years, this tribute concert has featured almost every genre of music. Except one. Hip hop. But this years theme, A Celebration of American Creativity, provided the perfect arrangement for hip hop to make its White House debut.

Queen Latifah performed Preachin' The Blues with Trombone Shorty earlier that evening. She played Tennessee blues singer Bessie Smith for the HBO biopic film Bessie. And toward the end of the celebration the Queen came on stage again. But this time it was to introduce the next act. Queen Latifah introduced the legendary MC Lyte as "my mentor, my inspiration, my all in all, the godmother of hip hop." The Brooklyn emcee began her set with the first verse of her track Dear John in spoken word form. Her lyrics are front and center in her a capella delivery. Accompanied by the house band, Lyte jumps into her energetic track Cha Cha Cha. MC Lyte had so much fun onstage that she even personalized the song for the occasion, "You can Cha Cha Cha to this Mardi Gras/ You're the best president that I've seen thus far." In two song snippets, MC Lyte was able represent the hip hop culture in the best way possible. She showcased the positive/fun side of our music as well as making sure to highlight the power that our music can have through social commentary. I could not be happier to have the beautiful MC Lyte be the face (literally as well, because at 45 she is still flawless) of hip hop to the White House audience.

Peep concert video below. As well as music video for Dear John and Cha Cha Cha.

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12 January 2016

REVIEW: Pusha T - King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude

Even before Pusha T's debut solo album, My Name Is My Name, dropped in the last quarter of 2013, hip hop heads worldwide have been highly anticipating his sophomore release. With multiple release dates being pushed back for Push (yeah I heard it), many were left wondering when King Push would see the light of day. The VA emcee has kept his fans appeased with updates throughout multiple interviews. And the collective exhale (at least we hope it is) came when Push announced that he would drop a prelude in December. King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude would serve as an appetizer to Pusha T's King Push album. Even though the album is only 10 tracks long, Push managed to get a star studded production roster, which include: Kanye (of course), Timbaland, Boi-1da, Sean "Puff Daddy" (back to that right?) Combs, The-Dream, J Cole and Q-Tip. Pusha T is one of the few emcees that can pay homage to the golden era without being constrained by the boom bap sound. The catalog of producers on the album provide contemporary instrumentals that place Push in the epicenter of what would be considered modern hip hop sounds.

Lyrically, Push is sharper than ever. The dark grimy themes are created with his rhythmic cadence and unconventional metaphors. In a recent interview with Sway in the Morning, Push said that one of the toughest and most frustrating tracks to write for was Crutches, Crosses, Caskets. Puff Daddy provided the instrumental and was very hands on with the overall production of the track. The bars, "Take my time to craft shit/ Cuz I don't like back and forths with Puff about rap shit", summarized Push's experience. But Pusha T felt that Puff was able to inject a drive that elevated his lyrics. "If I know what you about to say, then that ain't the right bar," Puff said to Push. Say what you will about Puff the rapper, but Puff the producer has had a huge influence on the sound of east coast hip hop. Puffy has seen it all in his 20 plus years in the game. This makes him the "toughest critic in life..don't nobody push you like him in the studio."

Crutches, Crosses, Caskets is probably in my top 3 favorite tracks off of The Prelude. The other two are M.P.A. and Sunshine. M.P.A. is a Kanye/Che Pope/Cole produced track that on the surface appears to be a typical track talking about money, women and alcohol. But once you dissect the lyrics you see the track gets much deeper than that. But the single I really want to highlight is Sunshine. The distorted percussion instrumental seems to build in waves, the beat even drops the drums altogether to let Pusha T's voice be the focal point. Jill Scott provides haunting vocals for the intro and the chorus throughout. The hook, "I say hey, sunshine/ Oh how the day can be so long," starts the track off with the juxtaposition of a greeting a beautiful day, but wanting the day to end (sunshine can still shine on a day full of hardships and suffering). The powerful track touches on the Freddie Gray murder and the Baltimore riots (and other injustices throughout the nation). "I see one time turn sunshine into Freddie Gray". This simple line is extremely complex and poignant. "One time" are the police (because if you look at the police more than once time, they get suspicious) who turn a "sunshine" (sunny/good day) into a cloudy/dark day (Freddie Gray's last name is used as a double entendre). The murder of Freddie Gray turned a sunny/normal day into a cloudy/heartbreaking one. For the moment the trial has hit a block with a hung jury and is postponed until [no timeline given]. Besides Jason Van Dyke in Chicago, who was tried and indicted for murder, most cops get a slap on the wrist and keep it moving (and I say slap on the wrist because if you kill someone and get no jail time, you can't cry about nada).

Pusha T has always been a "hood reporter". He shines a light into his reality and share his struggle with the world. As his popularity and influence increased, he has made more efforts to speak on social issues when addressed. He knows his Clipse fans want to keep hearing him rap about the street life with the genuine insight that can only come from a handful of emcees. But he is no longer in his early 20s, Push is pushing 40 and is taking the next step in his career. The promotion to president of G.O.O.D. Music provides an even greater platform for him to grow in his professional career and personal life. If The Prelude is a glimpse into what King Push will achieve, then Pusha T will be a force to deal with in the coming years. 

Peep a few videos below and cop that record ASAP. 

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08 January 2016

SINGLE: Kanye West - Real Friends & No More Parties in LA

It's been quite the uphill battle for Mr. West in recent years. It's no secret that the temper-tantrum known as YEEZUS fractured his entire fan base and their perception of his ability to still create great music. Since 2013, Kanye West has spent time collaborating with various artists in an attempt to eventually return to form with his follow-up to YEEZUS formerly titled So Help Me God. That title has since changed to SWISH and is scheduled for an early February 2016 release. So with about a month to go, it's safe to say that the season of Kanye is about to be in full effect.

Today marked the return of the infamous GOOD Friday series popularized during the promotional period for 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The basic idea was that 'Ye was to drop one track every Friday leading up to the official release date of the album. This approach spoiled the experience for some, and may end up doing the same this time around, but at least the music sounds good. The tracks that dropped today titled "Real Friends" and a brief snippet of "No More Parties in LA" at least show us that the Kanye West we have been missing for the past seven years or so may indeed be back. Listen below and let us know what you think!

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VIDEO: Kendrick Lamar - Untitled 2

At the end of 2014, Kendrick Lamar appeared on the final week of the Colbert Report as the last musical guest of one of the most important "news' programs in the new millennium. Instead of performing a track off of his classic major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city (or to promote his follow up To Pimp a Butterfly), Kendrick deciding to unveil an unreleased untitled track. He was accompanied by Bilal, Terrace Martin, Anna Wise and Thundercat. The Untitled track was another powerful/introspective song that we come to expect from K Dot.

In keeping with dropping world premieres on late night shows, Kendrick blessed The Tonight Show with another untitled track. This time the song Untitled 2 was accompanied by The Tonight Show's house band The Roots. I don't think this track is necessarily a continuation of the first Untitled track, but they are both reflective and full of social commentary. So there is that. Either way, Kendrick shines even brighter in these live performances. So we win all around.

So peep video below. I'm also posting video for first Untitled track.

You ain't gotta tell me that I am the one..yes I'm the one.

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06 January 2016

VIDEO: Rapsody - Tiny Desk Concert

Yesterday Rapsody dropped by Howard University in collaboration with NPR Music to perform as a guest in the Tiny Desk Concert series. Rap was accompanied by Jamla presidente 9th Wonder and The Storm Troopers. From what I could find out, which was very little (especially if you Google Storm Troopers NOW, thanks Star Wars), The Storm Troopers are a Jamla band comprised of a drummer, trumpeter, saxophonist, bass player, guitarist and two pianists. But of course we only see three musicians (trumpeter, saxophonist and single pianist) in the video.

Rapsody ran through three tracks off of her critically acclaimed 2014 EP, Beauty and the Beast. The video jumps off with the single Godzilla. The track lends itself well to the MTV Unplugged vibe created by the live band. Rapsody's lyrics take center stage over the smooth instrumental. Before she jumped into the next song, The Man, Rap addressed the audience of Howard students and faculty. She dedicated the song to fatherless boys who have to grow up fast and be "the man" of the house. Rap also dedicated it to good fathers out there (she even shouts out a good black father in the crowd). Lastly before her final song, Hard To Choose, she again spoke to the crowd. Rapsody talked about how hard it is being a black woman on Earth, but she also focused on her personal experience in the male dominated rap game. She wants to give her nieces, cousins and all young black girls a positive role model to look up to. Most female artists (especially rappers) have to use their sexuality to push sales. Rap decided to let her skills be the focus of her product, and even though that road means less sales and fame, she wouldn't change a thing.

I came across this video while working on my next review and had to share it with uall. Over the holidays I was in the middle of the frequent conversation of the current state of hip hop. If you're a 70s or 80s baby, you might agree that the percentage of garbage music is much higher now than it was in the 80s, 90s and early 00s. One comment is always, 'yeah most of these young rappers are whack, except Kendrick and Cole." I wouldn't argue that statement, but I would add Rapsody to that very short list. 2015 had many gems for the true hip hop head, here's hoping that 2016 is more of the same. If not more.

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04 January 2016

VIDEO: Kendrick Lamar - God Is Gangsta

Happy. New. Year. We at BITM hope you and yours had a happy and safe holiday season. Now to keep the ball rolling. If you look around the net, you'll see many "Top [insert number here] Albums of 2015" lists. It would be impossible to find a list where King Kendrick's To Pimp A Butterfly is not at the top (because said list would lose credibility if this album was omitted or if it fell too far down the list). This album shows a growing emcee taking risks and experimenting with different sounds and themes. And K Dot's creativity has also crossed over to the visual medium. All the music videos from TPAB have been different from anything he has done in the past, as well as what anybody else is doing currently.

So we kick off 2016 with the music video for God Is Gangsta. The video is essentially a two part video comprised of the singles u and For Sale? The first half of the video shows Kendrick flexing his acting muscles as he sits alone drinking his pains away. There are a few visual tricks that add to the drunken haze atmosphere, but for the most part the single camera frames Kendrick losing himself in a bottle. In contrast to the somber and depressing environment of u, the For Sale? part of the video injects colors and a sort of stylized depiction of Kendrick's surroundings.

Just like his music, K Dot's videos can also be dissected frame by frame to uncover hidden messages. In the few times I've seen the video, I noticed the subliminal message flashed throughout the second half of the music video. So let's kick the year off on another high note from TDE's superstar. Enjoy.

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