27 March 2013

XXL Freshman Class 2013

We were beginning to wonder when they new XXL Freshman Class list for this year would be released, but it's finally here. Gracing the cover this time around are ScHoolboy Q, Trinidad Jame$, Joey Badda$$, Ab-Soul, Logic, Action Bronson, Kirko Bangz, Travi$ Scott, Dizzy Wright, and Angel Haze. I must admit, at the time of posting this article, I'm only familiar with half of the artists on this list, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. When you think about it, a list of newcomers should for the most part be just that; newcomers.

Which leads me to my next issue. Who/what determines who makes the Freshman List each year? How much of an artist's music is judged and for how long before they are able to make the cut? Of the artists that I'm aware of, I would say Joey Bada$$, Trinidad Jame$, and Action Bronson are welcome additions as their body of work to date is fairly limited, but Ab-Soul and ScHoolboy Q have been around since 2009. Granted, they are both on the heels of releasing their major label solo debut albums, so it makes sense from that perspective, but I doubt that is something that has been consistent over the years with other artists who have made the Freshman Class list.

How do you feel about this list? Do you feel like the Black Hippy members have surpassed "Freshman" status? Do you feel like Trinidad James doesn't even deserve to be on this list? Let us know!

Twitter: @TwonJonson

Facebook: Twon Jonson

18 March 2013

EDITORIAL: "The Secret Meeting that Changed Rap Music and Destroyed a Generation"

Poster’s note: an associate of mine shared this with me on Facebook and I just had to share with y'all. Although I have no way to prove the accuracy of this article or the legitimacy of the author, many points made in this article ring true through the hip-hop community. So please, read and share your thoughts. This culture is one that is young, and one that must be protected. 

Hello, After more than 20 years, I've finally decided to tell the world what I witnessed in 1991, which I believe was one of the biggest turning point in popular music, and ultimately American society. I have struggled for a long time weighing the pros and cons of making this story public as I was reluctant to implicate the individuals who were present that day. So I've simply decided to leave out names and all the details that may risk my personal well being and that of those who were, like me, dragged into something they weren't ready for.

Between the late 80's and early 90’s, I was what you may call a “decision maker” with one of the more established company in the music industry. I came from Europe in the early 80’s and quickly established myself in the business. The industry was different back then. Since technology and media weren’t accessible to people like they are today, the industry had more control over the public and had the means to influence them anyway it wanted. This may explain why in early 1991, I was invited to attend a closed door meeting with a small group of music business insiders to discuss rap music’s new direction. Little did I know that we would be asked to participate in one of the most unethical and destructive business practice I’ve ever seen.

The meeting was held at a private residence on the outskirts of Los Angeles. I remember about 25 to 30 people being there, most of them familiar faces. Speaking to those I knew, we joked about the theme of the meeting as many of us did not care for rap music and failed to see the purpose of being invited to a private gathering to discuss its future. Among the attendees was a small group of unfamiliar faces who stayed to themselves and made no attempt to socialize beyond their circle. Based on their behavior and formal appearances, they didn't seem to be in our industry. Our casual chatter was interrupted when we were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement preventing us from publicly discussing the information presented during the meeting. Needless to say, this intrigued and in some cases disturbed many of us. The agreement was only a page long but very clear on the matter and consequences which stated that violating the terms would result in job termination. We asked several people what this meeting was about and the reason for such secrecy but couldn't find anyone who had answers for us. A few people refused to sign and walked out. No one stopped them. I was tempted to follow but curiosity got the best of me. A man who was part of the “unfamiliar” group collected the agreements from us.

Quickly after the meeting began, one of my industry colleagues (who shall remain nameless like everyone else) thanked us for attending. He then gave the floor to a man who only introduced himself by first name and gave no further details about his personal background. I think he was the owner of the residence but it was never confirmed. He briefly praised all of us for the success we had achieved in our industry and congratulated us for being selected as part of this small group of “decision makers”. At this point I begin to feel slightly uncomfortable at the strangeness of this gathering. The subject quickly changed as the speaker went on to tell us that the respective companies we represented had invested in a very profitable industry which could become even more rewarding with our active involvement. He explained that the companies we work for had invested millions into the building of privately owned prisons and that our positions of influence in the music industry would actually impact the profitability of these investments. I remember many of us in the group immediately looking at each other in confusion. At the time, I didn’t know what a private prison was but I wasn't the only one. Sure enough, someone asked what these prisons were and what any of this had to do with us. We were told that these prisons were built by privately owned companies who received funding from the government based on the number of inmates. The more inmates, the more money the government would pay these prisons. It was also made clear to us that since these prisons are privately owned, as they become publicly traded, we’d be able to buy shares. Most of us were taken back by this. Again, a couple of people asked what this had to do with us. At this point, my industry colleague who had first opened the meeting took the floor again and answered our questions. He told us that since our employers had become silent investors in this prison business, it was now in their interest to make sure that these prisons remained filled. Our job would be to help make this happen by marketing music which promotes criminal behavior, rap being the music of choice. He assured us that this would be a great situation for us because rap music was becoming an increasingly profitable market for our companies, and as employee, we’d also be able to buy personal stocks in these prisons. Immediately, silence came over the room. You could have heard a pin drop. I remember looking around to make sure I wasn't dreaming and saw half of the people with dropped jaws. My daze was interrupted when someone shouted, “Is this a f****** joke?” At this point things became chaotic. Two of the men who were part of the “unfamiliar” group grabbed the man who shouted out and attempted to remove him from the house. A few of us, myself included, tried to intervene. One of them pulled out a gun and we all backed off. They separated us from the crowd and all four of us were escorted outside. My industry colleague who had opened the meeting earlier hurried out to meet us and reminded us that we had signed agreement and would suffer the consequences of speaking about this publicly or even with those who attended the meeting. I asked him why he was involved with something this corrupt and he replied that it was bigger than the music business and nothing we’d want to challenge without risking consequences. We all protested and as he walked back into the house I remember word for word the last thing he said, “It’s out of my hands now. Remember you signed an agreement.” He then closed the door behind him. The men rushed us to our cars and actually watched until we drove off.

A million things were going through my mind as I drove away and I eventually decided to pull over and park on a side street in order to collect my thoughts. I replayed everything in my mind repeatedly and it all seemed very surreal to me. I was angry with myself for not having taken a more active role in questioning what had been presented to us. I'd like to believe the shock of it all is what suspended my better nature. After what seemed like an eternity, I was able to calm myself enough to make it home. I didn't talk or call anyone that night. The next day back at the office, I was visibly out of it but blamed it on being under the weather. No one else in my department had been invited to the meeting and I felt a sense of guilt for not being able to share what I had witnessed. I thought about contacting the 3 others who wear kicked out of the house but I didn't remember their names and thought that tracking them down would probably bring unwanted attention. I considered speaking out publicly at the risk of losing my job but I realized I’d probably be jeopardizing more than my job and I wasn't willing to risk anything happening to my family. I thought about those men with guns and wondered who they were? I had been told that this was bigger than the music business and all I could do was let my imagination run free. There were no answers and no one to talk to. I tried to do a little bit of research on private prisons but didn’t uncover anything about the music business’ involvement. However, the information I did find confirmed how dangerous this prison business really was. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Eventually, it was as if the meeting had never taken place. It all seemed surreal. I became more reclusive and stopped going to any industry events unless professionally obligated to do so. On two occasions, I found myself attending the same function as my former colleague. Both times, our eyes met but nothing more was exchanged.

As the months passed, rap music had definitely changed direction. I was never a fan of it but even I could tell the difference. Rap acts that talked about politics or harmless fun were quickly fading away as gangster rap started dominating the airwaves. Only a few months had passed since the meeting but I suspect that the ideas presented that day had been successfully implemented. It was as if the order has been given to all major label executives. The music was climbing the charts and most companies when more than happy to capitalize on it. Each one was churning out their very own gangster rap acts on an assembly line. Everyone bought into it, consumers included. Violence and drug use became a central theme in most rap music. I spoke to a few of my peers in the industry to get their opinions on the new trend but was told repeatedly that it was all about supply and demand. Sadly many of them even expressed that the music reinforced their prejudice of minorities.

I officially quit the music business in 1993 but my heart had already left months before. I broke ties with the majority of my peers and removed myself from this thing I had once loved. I took some time off, returned to Europe for a few years, settled out of state, and lived a “quiet” life away from the world of entertainment. As the years passed, I managed to keep my secret, fearful of sharing it with the wrong person but also a little ashamed of not having had the balls to blow the whistle. But as rap got worse, my guilt grew. Fortunately, in the late 90’s, having the internet as a resource which wasn't at my disposal in the early days made it easier for me to investigate what is now labeled the prison industrial complex. Now that I have a greater understanding of how private prisons operate, things make much more sense than they ever have. I see how the criminalization of rap music played a big part in promoting racial stereotypes and misguided so many impressionable young minds into adopting these glorified criminal behaviors which often lead to incarceration. Twenty years of guilt is a heavy load to carry but the least I can do now is to share my story, hoping that fans of rap music realize how they’ve been used for the past 2 decades. Although I plan on remaining anonymous for obvious reasons, my goal now is to get this information out to as many people as possible. Please help me spread the word. Hopefully, others who attended the meeting back in 1991 will be inspired by this and tell their own stories. Most importantly, if only one life has been touched by my story, I pray it makes the weight of my guilt a little more tolerable.

Thank you

Posted by Ivan: @hiphopisread.com


15 March 2013

VIDEO: T.I. - Addresses

If you keep up with BITM you know that Tip's eight studio album got a solid 4 tapes from us. Even though he has been a bit inconsistent with his recent LPs (complacency? too much jail maybe?), it is safe to say that the KING is back to reclaim his crown. But how do you follow the cinematic short film Trap Back Jumpin? Simple, make Addresses another visual masterpiece that keeps us eager for the next epic installment. Mr.Harris has confirmed that this is a diss record but has kept quiet on who it's about.

"It was direct. Now the thing about who it was directed too, It benefits them more than it benefits me, for me to put it out there. So I made it directly in a way only they will know. Therefore they can not get any shine off of it."

Regardless if you are able to decipher who the intended target is is irrelevant. With this video TIP wants to take us on another journey through the world that he lives in. The sensational nature of his story telling is never meant to be hyperbole, but rather a genuine glance into events in his life that have made him the man that is today. So sit back, grab a snack and enjoy.

14 March 2013

REVIEW: Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience

One of the most struggling genres in music today, Rhythm & Blues, suffers from a similar plague that has become widespread; everyone striving to sound the same for a common goal. The "Rhythm" has become far more upbeat and predictable, while the "Blues" has been replaced with euphoric fist-pumping. Even though there is nothing wrong with an artist branching away from traditional norms, there is a problem when that tradition is abandoned for modern norms, killing the concept of being original.

One thing that has never been a problem for Justin Timberlake is existing within his own identity as an artist. Whether you classify his music as Pop, or R&B, the one thing that cannot be denied outside of his mass appeal is his ever-consistent originality. Since becoming a solo artist he has found his own voice, and with the help of The Neptunes on his first album, and Timbaland for the second go-round, has established a sound unlike anything seen in music today.

JT enlists Mr. Mosley again to help keep this streak alive with his third solo effort, "The 20/20 Experience." The results bear a striking resemblance to the overall sound heard on FutureSex/Lovesounds, which is in no way a bad thing. 20/20 is a bit more smoothed out than his previous effort, but it still has that same Timbo/Timberlake magic. Try to remember the first time you heard "My Love" on Futuresex. That's how I feel when I listen to "Don't Hold The Wall" off 20/20. I can't think of any other way to describe this record other than to say it's a straight BANGER. Timbo drops hard 808s over an ethereal middle-eastern sounding beat full of what we've come to expect from him, while Justin effortlessly coasts over the track with a melodic staccato flow.

The second half of this song, as is the case with several other songs over the course of the album, sounds drastically different than the beginning. People might be immediately turned off by the fact this album only consists of ten tracks, but once they delve into the heart of the project, they come to find that there are no shortage of songs in the 7-8 minute range. In fact, 70% of the songs on this album come in two flavors which tend to switch up at the halfway point. It makes for an interesting dynamic, mainly because it feels like you are getting two songs in one. The entire album still clocks in at over an hour in length, so there's no reason to feel short changed. Nearly every song is quality.

The album starts off incredibly strong and is consistent with upbeat songs and smooth ballads throughout, but the biggest misstep lies with a song that was actually released as a single recently. "Mirrors" is a very ho-hum pop record that is reminiscent of that "other" Justin. It simply is not an accurate representation of the calibur of music heard throughout the rest of the album. But being an 8+ minute song, it gets the Jekyll & Hyde treatment as well, with the second half being superior, but still not good enough to be a single. It's hands down the worst song on the album.

When you put "The 20/20 Experience" up against albums from other artists that compare to JT, the most noticeable difference is the lack of a slew of techno-infused fist-pumping anthems that have become commonplace on most "R&B" albums. Even if you are quick to write Justin Timberlake off as a worthless pop artist, there is something to be said for staying true to your own sound. Even artists like Usher can't say this anymore, and many hold Usher in a higher regard. I personally feel like JT surpassed Ursh with the Futuresex album. And after hearing Usher's most recent trash, Justin may have solidified his spot at the top of the roost. There are plenty of hits on this album that could and should supplant "Mirrors," but only time will tell.

I always classified Justin's music as soul with mass appeal. Neo-Soul purists would scoff at that comment, and your average radio head lacks the musical ear to comprehend what soul music even is, but that's how I feel about this album and his music in general. It's a welcome change of pace to what's out there right now from those who would be considered competition.

And to that other guy out there who just so happens to bear the same name, the "real" Justin is definitely back.

Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience drops on Tuesday, March 19th.

Hit me up at:

Twitter: @TwonJonson or @BestInTheMix
Facebook: Twon Jonson

12 March 2013

LOCAL MUSIC: Jose Lanston "King of the ILL" Mixtape

After months of waiting and all the eagerness from his local fans, Jose Langston
finally released his highly anticipated, “King of the Ill” mixtape executively produced by Chill Will. 
Jose Langston is an upcoming artist in the Metro Detroit area, specifically the Inkster area. 
He has gotten a lot of support over the past few years from when before he was in the studio. A lot of people loved his freestyles and he has only gotten better with punch lines. Jose Langston is reppin’ Fresh Pressure Music group who is going 
to be putting out of a lot projects in the future.

This project is a solid starter mixtape. It is a 9 track tape with more of a freestyle approach to it. Jose Langston’s punch lines and flows are what I favor most about him. He really exploits his abilities on the tracks “Adorn,” “Jackin 4 Beats,” and “Can't take my eyes off of you.” “Can't take my eyes off of you” to me is the best track on here I will continuously listen to it on any given day, I can’t just listen once. The track is sampled by Lauryn Hill’s “Can’t take my eyes off of you” which suits Jose very well in my opinion.

Every artist had to start somewhere and I see potential in this artist. This only a beginning for Jose Langston and he can only get better. I really appreciated the flows, punch lines, and experimentation on this joint. Jose went off a few tracks by well-known mainstream artists such as, Slick Rick, Snoop Dogg(at that time), Tyga, Wale, Busta Rhymes and others. Support our local artists!


NEW MUSIC: Dizzy Wright x Joey Bada$$ - Maintain

By now if you haven't heard the name Joey Bada$$ you must be living in a cave. This kid has been setting any track he breaths upon ablaze no matter what it is i.e. freestyles, features, and his own tracks of course. His Pro Era crew is a force to be reckoned with, and you can listen to “PEEP: The aPROcalypseif you don’t believe me (also reviewed by me in a previous article). Aside from the young scorcher, Dizzy Wright, an artist that hasn’t been discussed on Best In The Mix released a track with Bada$$ last night and the joint is HOT! The track is a soulful beat that both artists come equipped to amaze the listener. No more talking, here it is!

VIDEO: Big K.R.I.T. - R.E.M.

Waiting for that K.ing R.emembered I.n T.ime?
This should hold you down.

11 March 2013

06 March 2013

XXL Freshmen Class 2009: Then & Now

We don't claim to be the definitive source of information here at BITM when it comes to news within the urban community, but at the same time, we won't hesitate to speak from the soul when giving our opinions on a subject. With that said, let's move on to the XXL Freshman Class of 2009. 

It's true that this was not XXL's first issue in their Freshman Class series, but it was the first that introduced a wave of relatively unknown young talent to the world at the time. How many of us really knew who Asher Roth was in 2008? In fact, at the time, I only recognized 3 out of the 10 artists who graced the three covers; Cory Gunz, Blu, and Wale. The one thing that impressed me the most back then was the noteable absence of typical radio type artists on the cover of a well known hip-hop magazine (I knew nothing about Ace Hood back then). Of course I wasn't able to predict what type of careers these artists would carve out for themselves, but I was just glad to see the next wave of young talent that would help bring in the new decade.

XXL has had their own "Where are they now" series for each Freshman class for some time now, but theirs usually come only two years after the release of the issue. The rap game moves fast though, so I get it. But I always like to give artists around five years to see just how much the game changes them, or to see if they are among the minority who are actually able to change the game themselves.

Wale - His first album under MMG was surprisingly better than his debut album Attention Deficit released a few years prior. He has also been featured on countless singles throughout the MMG camp and beyond. At first it was odd to see someone whom I considered to be somewhat of a lyricist joining forces with MMG, but to be honest, Rick Ross probably saved this man's career. Personally I wouldn't have minded if he stuck with mixtapes, but at the end of the day I understand the man wants to get paid.

B.o.B. - He has probably seen the most success out of the bunch. After grinding solo since 2006, he is now nestled comfortably under the umbrella of Grand Hustle. Bobby Ray's wildly successful young career has actually kept the Grand Hustle label afloat amidst T.I.'s "vacations." I'm still not sure which direction Tip is headed with the "Hustle Gang," but B.o.B. will clearly play a huge role in the future of the label. His music doesn't particularly appeal to me for the most part, but I can definitely rock with a few of his joints here and there.

Charles Hamilton - Bum Sauce. I don't really want to spend a ton of time on this clown because all of his missteps have been highly publicized. His downfall was self-induced, which is sad because from a true hip-hop perspective I feel like he gets it. I think he understands the essence of what's real. I just can't wrap my head around how someone would allow their career to crash and burn so violently after having a decent deal damn near gift-wrapped for them. The Pink Lavalamp tape still gets spins in the whip every now and then, mainly due to the production, but I don't think many Charles Hamilton fans exist anymore.

Asher Roth - He is starting to gain the reputation as a baby shit soft rapper, which is something that I can't understand. Rappers are always poppin off about being real and staying in your lane, but when Asher does exactly that, all of a sudden he's soft? He stays true to the life he knows, and never ventures outside of those walls even for a second, which is more than I can say for several artists today. Would it be better if Asher started trying to sound black on his songs? I think people lose sight of what's really important in hip-hop, and instead focus on irrelavent issues to try to tear down an artist who might not necessarily fit the norms set by radio stations. Keeping all that in mind, his album "Asleep In The Bread Aisle" to me was an amazing debut that hit all the right notes. Since then though, Asher has only released a couple of obscure mixtapes that haven't even come close to living up to his LP. Which is rare...because it's supposed to be the other way around...right?

BLU - Hands down the biggest disappointment out of the entire 2009 Freshman class. It's almost as if he poured every ounce of his heart and soul into the timeless classic "Below the Heavens," and has been running on an empty tank ever since. He has thrown out countless under-produced un-mastered mixtapes, re-released those same tapes years later as albums, and done a couple of album collabs with other artists / producers, none of which even come close to reaching the bar set by Blu & Exile's Below the Heavens. Blu even teamed up with Exile again for "Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them," but the album is the embodiment of this comfort zone Blu has reached. It's almost as if he refuses to challenge himself to be better. Don't get me wrong, I am far from a Blu hater. My frustration stems from the fact that I know what the man is capable of, and he keeps failing to deliver with each project he releases. Hopefully "NoYork!" will be a return to form when it drops on March 26th.

Cory Gunz - I have been loosely following Cory Gunz since the early-mid '00s, but never really expected him to establish a presence beyond his enormous mixtape collection. Even after inking a deal with the label that makes it damn near impossible to flop (YMCMB), my expectations for the young gun are proving themselves to be reality. It's all good though, the kid is only 25, he has plenty of time to shine.

Mickey Factz - I'll be honest, I don't really know much about this guy other than the song he had on the Fight Night Round 4 soundtrack, "Rocker," which...rocked. I can only hope the rest of his music follows the same mold. He has apparently amassed a healthy mixtape collection since 2006, but I have yet to sample a single one. He hasn't released a studio album, and hasn't made any serious noise since appearing on the cover of XXL.

Ace Hood - Most artists spend years on the underground circuit. For some, it may take 5-10 years before they experience any sort of consistent monetary success on a grand scale. Then there are artists like Ace Hood, who follow the cookie-cut mold to acheieve instant overnight mainstream success just from being in the right place at the right time. After Ace handed his demo tape to DJ Khaled, his future was sealed. Even though I consider his style and what he stands for to be an example of everything that is wrong with the rap game, I do respect some of his cadences when he raps. Outside of that, the man doesn't exist to me. And making the type of music he makes at age 24, I don't even think he truly understands what hip-hop is. The club goers love him though, but their ears aren't trained to pay attention to lyricism, of which he has none.

Curren$y - This one is the wild card. I've been known to destroy Spitta in a few of my hip-hop circles from hatin on his boring delivery to sayin he raps like he got a d**k lodged in his mouth, but over the years I have grown to like his style. I can't relate to any of the shit he talks about in his music, but I still find myself coppin every album he drops. He has found a lane that works for him and consistently releases albums at a steady pace. I really got nothin bad to say about dude, I respect what he's doin.

Kid Cudi - Easily the most eccentric artist of the bunch, Scott Mescudi's music is a mixed bag that isn't necessarily embraced by everyone. The closed-minded crowd feels like his sound is too weird, but those who love art are able to respect the divergent approach Cudi takes with his music. Cudi was one of the first artists in 2008 who made me realize this new decade of music was going to be littered with artists taking risks and not being afraid to be themselves. Nowadays it's easy to notice that hip-hop has branched off into several sub-genres, and while Kid Cudi clearly was not the first person to come with a new sound, he has definitely been one of many who have managed to inspire a new generation to not be afraid to challenge the status quo. In my humble opinion, Cudi is the definition of a game changer. Regardless of whether or not you actually like his music, you would be a fool to not recognize the impact he's had on hip-hop.