16 March 2018

REVIEW: Elzhi & Khrysis - Elzhi & Khrysis Are Jericho Jackson

Hip Hop has four main pillars: rapping, DJing, breakdancing, and graffiti art (I know there are synonyms for each pillar, but I'm going with the Zulu Nation's wording). The mainstream influence that Hip Hop has can primarily be attributed to the music pillars: the emcee and the DJ. Yes, all four pillars form like Voltron to give us the true essence of Hip Hip culture, but the global entertainment reach Hip Hop has is because of the music.

I've said on multiple occasions that there is a certain magic that a project has when it comes from one emcee and one DJ/producer. The late 80s/early 90s gave us classic duos like: Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Eric B and Rakim, Gang Starr (Guru and DJ Premier), DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, and more (didn't feel like researching, we know there are more). The late 90s and oughts had a few gems as well: Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek), Madvillain (MF DOOM and Madlib), Murs and 9th Wonder, Blu and Exile, and Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El P) (again, we know there are more duos). I'll make one more point before this review completely gets away from me (too late?). A few years ago Royce Da 5'9" and DJ Premier formed their emcee/DJ group, PRhyme. They are actually dropping their second project today (hope to hop on that joint next). Even though it really doesn't matter, I feel there is more..commitment(?) when you name your group. So when Elzhi and Khrysis revealed that they were forming the group, Jericho Jackson, my curiosity was peaked. Actually, my expectations were SKY HIGH. My expectations were not only based on their individual pedigrees, but also the climate of recent pairings (ie, PRhyme). So how did Jericho Jackson fare? Let's go.

The intro track "World of Illusion" features a minimal piano melody with words from British philosopher Alan Watts. The speech he gives is a metaphor for information processing. You can lose yourself in your own thoughts. People who are overwhelmed with thoughts, are not able to live in reality. Instead, they live in a..world of illusion (well played Elzhi/Khrysis). The following track "Overthinking" takes the baton from the philosopher and into Elzhi's current state of mind. This track appears to be a therapy session (actually, a few tracks feel this way). Elzhi has had a few personal and professional trials the last couple of years. This track allows him to heal while contemplating over lessons learned. Elzhi works through his emotions in a sort of "book of rhymes" style. He deals with: politics, record contracts, family, fame, acceptance, social media, fake friends, street life, self awareness, hope, doubt, religion, love, revenge, and regret. Technically, the Detroit spitter is in top shape. His flows, delivery, cadence, subject matter and metaphors are all flawless. The track ends with Alan Watts predicting our current environment (I think this speech, and his intro speech, must be from the 50s or 60s). He states:

And all so called civilized peoples. Have increasingly become crazy and self-destructive. We confuse science, words, numbers, symbols, and ideas with the real world. Most of us would have rather money than tangible wealth. And a great occasion is somehow spoiled for us unless photographed. And to read about it the next day in the newspaper Is oddly, more fun for us than the original event.

The aptly named final track, "Thank you", is a beautiful and complex approach to a subject that has been touched on by many artists. Elzhi's vocals and Khrysis' SOULFUL beat are enough to make this track a stand out. But the way Elzhi navigates his way through ups and downs is masterful. The balance of how his life went vs how it easily could have gone creates an intriguing duality. His destination is important, but the journey is what made him the man he is today. Elzhi acknowledges that without his family, friends, and fans none of this would be possible. Again, not a world changing discovery. But this track Elzhi and Khrysis create is a perfect bookend to an entire album that is full of depth and emotion.

Since New Year's Eve, we've been teased with the Jericho Jackson project. Last month we got the first single "Self Made" (which is DOPE, definitely a track that has a bit more "grime" than the rest of the album) and the follow up track "Listen". Khrysis curated the entire album with a neo soul infused canvas for Elzhi to work with. The 9th Wonder disciple has clearly elevated his beat game to another level. No club bangers. Not a problem (for me). But if you need one, then go listen to Lil...Rainbow Head? The Soul Council alum is a perfect evolution of the 9th/ATCQ/Raphael Saadiq-type sounding beats. Can't wait to see what he has cooked up for the sequel. Oh, and dude got to flex his pen game in "Talkin' Bout". But of course when it comes to lyrics, we all came for Elzhi. Since his solo debut in 08, many Hip Hops were waiting for him to take his place with the top emcees. Elmatic in 2011 (damn, I swear that JUST came out) added fuel to the debate. But a DELAYED album Kickstarter (with lawsuit threats from fans that pledged money) revealed that the emcee had been dealing with depression. From that darkness Elzhi was able to give us an extremely introspective album, Lead Poison, in 2016. Really until we heard a few months ago about the Jericho Jackson project, we had no idea when we'd see him again. As I stated above (somewhere up there), my expectations where high for this one. I'm a fan of all things Jamla, and Khrysis has been on a steady incline for his whole career. And I've been a fan of Elzhi since his Slum Village days. I can gladly say that these two artists did not disappoint. This album is EXACTLY what you expect and want from this duo. We've said it before, there are some DOPE ASS LYRICISTS out there. You just gotta dig for them. This album isn't going to push 21 Savage numbers (I saw his name pop up recently, that is the extent of my knowledge of dude), it ain't gonna be poppin in the clubs, and it probably won't hit the airwaves (maybe on an XM channel somewhere). But if you want those straight up BARS and BEATS, you need look no further. I hope this is the project Elzhi needed to get better, get healthy, and get back to taking his place in the upper echelon of emcees. Peep video for Jericho Jackson's first single below. 

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REVIEW: Nipsey Hussle - Victory Lap

Replay value, something that is no longer a leading trait or stat in the music industry especially when it comes to hip-hop. What is probably the leading factor that goes into calling an album a classic project is now something that isn’t too prevalent in our culture. Reflecting back over the last calendar year of the music we’ve received from heavy hitters like Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar, Rick Ross, CyHi The Prynce, and Rapsody; they have shown us that their integrity still remains in their artistry to deliver to fans  a cohesive project that is not only sonically enjoyable but will leave you lyrically pleased. Adding to that list of artists is West Coast King Nipsey Hussle. Nipsey after formulating a brilliant album roll-out and press run has released his long-awaited album completing the mixtape series, Victory Lap. Seeming to resemble Dr. Dre’s Detox, based off of the arrival time of Victory Lap fans like myself were more than ecstatic to hear when Nip dropped an actual release date for this project. After all of the build up and hype we finally have the complete debut project, and weeks after its release it has the accolades to support how good this album really is.

With what seems to be a flawless into track featuring Stacy Barthe the song “Victory Lap,”  Nipsey is braggadocios from his time that he remained honorable in the streets to his legitimate success in business ventures that he’s currently acquiring more of. Segueing into the first single from the album “Rap Niggas” is a fucking west coast classic banger already. The energy that Nipsey brings forth is guaranteed to get you to spill some liquor on your shoes or get you in the middle of a mosh pit, so be safe with this one. To lead into yet another song that’s guaranteed for summer pool parties is “Last Time That I Checc’d” featuring YG. Now if you have any history about any track with a Nipsey and YG, you know that they are shooting 100% from the line with no miss in sight. From their last big hit “Fuck Donald Trump,” this is a great follow up to have you feeling yourself as if you run your city when you really don’t. 

With 11 features on 16 tracks and only about 4-5 with actual verses from artists on the others, “Dedication” is lyrical sparring with none other than Kendrick Lamar as Nip’s sparring partner. This has been the theme with Nipsey for as long as I can remember that I’ve been listening to him. Discipline is something that he prides his self on having not only among his self but his team, which is how he’s come to enjoy his sacrifices now that the blueprint has come into fruition. Kendrick blesses the track telling not only part of his story that we are already familiar with but why he respects Nipsey being that they come from different gangs (Nipsey being a Crip and Kendrick a blood), yet Nipsey speaks and ACTS on building black businesses, self education, and owning our community. “Blue Laces 2” is my favorite track on the album and it’s upsetting because as amazing as this album is, I could not bring myself to hit the next button. Keeping almost the same beat from the original with some minor tweaks, this track is impeccable. This track strikes me in a realm of pain and understanding, with even a small reference to Marvel’s record breaking Black Panther movie. “ In a Spook by the door this the infiltration,” refers to a book about a CIA agent who was a token black in the agency and drops out to train Chicago blacks as “freedom fighters” to become militant black citizens; sound similar to the plot of the highest grossing solo superhero movie of all time? If you think so that’s because that story is similar to Michael B. Jordan’s “Eric Kilmonger” in the film. Blue Laces 2 is something that will definitely have you wanting to sit your seat back and cruise to in the car or roll up to. 

We have received classic Nipsey Hussle mixtapes before, most notably being his Marathon series or the 2013 classic Crenshaw, but even he has said recently he has never put this much focus and emphasis methodically into not only a project but the other aesthetics and nuances that go into creating an album. From the way the track list was built to the instrumentals sampled to the different flows he used, Nipsey is clearly stepping further into his own artistry. You would think the way the beats were chosen that this is a Rick Ross album (Ross has a great ear for beats), however that is the help of Mike & Keys, 1500 or Nothin, Diddy and more. Mike & Keys and 1500 or Nothin are of my favorite producers that work with Nipsey and their chemistry produces nothing but classics. 

I am a huge fan of Nipsey so with my bias, this album is a classic and I don’t care who debates it. I can’t be by myself based off of the reception of this album and its been out for a month. The support that Nip has received from rappers, fans, bloggers, athletes has all but certified this project as something truly cohesive that can be placed with the greater projects we’ve received from other artists recently that will surely stand the test of time. As not just another rapper but a real student of the game and intellectual, I understand the moves that were made and the patience needed for Nipsey to release his debut album. As someone who prides his self on ownership of his music and publishing, to work out a partnership deal with Atlantic Records after being noted for his Independent success, as the last step before his release shows me that he is calculated and is looking to stay here for the long haul (hence the term Marathon he so frequently uses). Go get Victory Lap today!

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01 March 2018

REVIEW: Black Panther: The Album

Ever since the TDE collective Black Hippy started to gain notariety after Kendrick Lamar burst onto the scene in 2012, fans have been clamoring for a project featuring all four members of the label.  As years have passed and Top Dawg Entertainment grew into a juggernaut in the industry, they also acquired new members and made several alliances along the way, so an album with just Kenny, Soul, Q, and Jay Rock began making less and less sense.

Luckily, an opportunity arose when director Ryan Coogler approached Kendrick about an idea to be at the helm of the soundtrack for the movie Black Panther.  In an interview, Coogler stated that "Kendrick's artistic themes align with those we explore in the film."  So following the DAMN. tour, Kung Fu Kenny and his in-house production team began laying down the groundwork for what could possibly go down as one of the best movie soundtracks ever created in the form of Black Panther: The Album.  In addition to providing the backdrop for the film itself, the soundtrack inadvertently satiates the hunger from fans that have been longing for TDE to form like Voltron and shock the world with their immense talent and perspective.  This may not be a Black Hippy project per se, but this is definitely an amazing consolation.

Let me start off by saying THIS SOUNDTRACK IS FUCKING PHENOMENAL!  Black Panther: The Album can be enjoyed whether or not you've actually seen the film, but understanding the references heard throughout will hit you much harder if you are familiar with the source material.  The reason is because this album is a perfect illustration of every major event in the movie and its overall significance.  In some ways, Kendrick creatively re-tells the stories of both T'Challa and Killmonger, as well as the societies each character comes from.  Kendrick's verse on "All The Stars" is from the perspective of T'Challa when Killmonger came storming into the throne room making demands, while Khalid & Swae Lee sing an ode to the powerful women of Wakanda on "The Ways."  The West Coast-infused "Paramedic" almost serves as Killmonger's theme song, while "Bloody Waters" and "King's Dead" are essentially the height of the conflict between both main characters, as Killmonger defeats T'Challa and assumes the throne.

Even though Kendrick isn't featured on every track, his influence is heard thematically throughout.  This album features notable contributions from artists representing every facet of urban culture, and most of it works extremely well, with only a few head scratchers.  Swae Lee and Future may be in a similar lane in this industry, but the gap in their creativity and ability to blend into a song are staggering.  Swae Lee fits perfectly alongside Khalid on "The Ways," despite Khalid's reputation as being more of a true 'artist.'  Meanwhile, Future's embarrassing attempt to flex his creative muscle on "King's Dead" is so bad that it ruins a moment that could have been special for Jay Rock, who managed to pull a whole new style out of his arsenal on this song.

"Redemption's" rhythmically African sound may come across as jarring when compared to all the other vibes that precede it, but it quickly becomes an infectious change of pace that is both unexpected and welcome.  Kendrick has a way of piecing together a project to where you won't ever feel fatigued by a single style becoming redundant.  One of the album's strongest tracks is "Seasons."  Equal parts hood and motherland, this song exemplifies the internal struggles Killmonger faced being stripped from his roots in Wakanda and forced to grow up in a poverty-stricken environment in Oakland, California.

In true Kendrick Lamar fashion, Black Panther: The Album concludes on a high note with The Weeknd on the futuristic "Pray For Me."  Like most of the album, it's just great hearing songs that both fit the movie, and are simply enjoyable to listen to from a musical standpoint.  This epic conclusion caps off a 14-track thrill ride that solidifies just how dominant TDE truly is.  These guys are checking off a lot of boxes this decade, and building a truly legendary resume to boot.  With so many artists from within TDE and outside the camp, this soundtrack often feels like Top Dawg Entertainment's compilation album, similar to The Dynasty.  What a time to be alive!  Kendrick is becoming a renaissance man of sorts, by curating one of the greatest soundtracks of all time up there with the likes of Above the Rim, Juice, Superfly and Purple Rain.  Top Dawg may have been the coach, Kendrick may have been the quarterback, but the entire squad gets the W for this soundtrack.

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