Do Hip-Hop fans have notoriously short attention spans? Is longevity in Hip-Hop an oxymoron? For years that’s what we’ve read and heard over and over and over again; rap is just a string of here today gone tomorrow fads and the artists that facilitate these passing excursions should be more than satisfied with whatever brief notoriety they are fortunate enough to acquire. Like a shooting star in the night sky, here for the moment and gone forever. Yet in a “stunning” twist of music industry misfortune it appears that one such meteor streaking through the darkness has refused to submit to its foredestined fate. Rather than burning up in the earth’s atmosphere, a solid mass of knowledge and positive energy piloted by the Grand Verbalizer Brother J has careened off the earth’s crust in Brooklyn, New York, subsequently launching itself on a trajectory back towards the heavens above. While accounts of this event are varied, one thing is for certain: on January 30th, 2007, a ray of hope will once again pierce through the darkness of ignorance and apathy --- the legendary X-Clan has returned.
Following a fourteen year hiatus, the group that helped define positive Afro-centricity while standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy had all but been written out of the history books. Their classic albums forgotten and overlooked by fans and critics alike, as if they were an ancient African civilization in a world history class. With the passing of X-Clan’s spiritual leader Professor X, who succumbed to spinal meningitis in March of 2006, the group’s chief lyricist Brother J was determined to revive his dear friend’s vision and carry the torch of prophetic lyricism and ancestral wisdom into the new millennium. The result, X-Clan’s first album since 1992, Return From Mecca. A triumphant homecoming.
If you still haven’t heard the album’s lead single “Weapon X”, do yourself a favor and check out one of the hardest hitting true-school boom bap joints in a minute. “I’m not known for the singing or the common man’s grammar / J from the Clan but I’m not a Wu-Tanger / Concrete guerilla still spittin’ bananas / We set the foundation by swinging the new hammer / Glitz and the glamour come secondary / To my timeless jewels and street knowledge degrees / Weapon X haters down on your knees / Throw your rhymes in the flames and repent to the East”. If you want to get hyped on your way to work, listen to “Weapon X” about five times in a row and you might actually forget that you’re going to spend the rest of your day doing something you probably wish you weren’t.
Featuring guest appearances from the Blastmaster KRS One, Damian “Junior Gong” Marley and Chali 2na of Jurassic 5, to name a few, Return From Mecca embodies the type of quality longtime Hip-Hop fans have come to expect; an album that you can actually listen to from beginning to end without fast forwarding through every other track. While addressing a variety of topics including the negative influence of pop culture and the systematic imprisonment of black youth, Brother J delivers his insightful commentary as a thoroughly skilled MC whose words can resonate with fans from virtually any demographic. When it’s all said and done quality always trumps gimmicks. Whether you grew up listening to X-Clan or not, as the saying goes: real recognize real. Support the real and cop Return From Mecca. This review is protected by the Red, the Black and the Green. Vanglorious!
If you're a true Hip-Hop head and you still haven't heard about Apathy, you'll be hearing about this cat soon enough. In fact, to make things easier you could just keep reading this review and we'll tell you all about him. Basically, Ap is this white dude from Connecticut who spits real vivid and provocative rhymes, bringing it to you with that classic East Coast flavor. Its one of those things where you hear this guy spit for thirty seconds and you realize that this could be the MC we've all been waiting on. Over the last several years we've heard various claims and innuendo coming from countless new artists about how this one or that one will be bringing the East Coast back or representing for New York or whatever else these guys claim they're gonna be doing. For all the talk, I've been thoroughly unimpressed. Until, that is, I heard Apathy's new record.
A founding member of the Demigodz Crew, Ap burst onto the scene in 2002 appearing on the critically acclaimed The Godz Must Be Crazy EP alongside fellow crew members Celph Titled, 7L & Esoteric and Styles Of Beyond. Quickly gaining the attention of several majors, Apathy would eventually sign a deal with Atlantic Records. While his major label debut is still in the works, Ap aims to keep heads nodding with his brand new indie album, Eastern Philosophy, dropping March 21 st on Babygrande Records; do yourself a favor and cop it.
Featuring boom bap production and sprinkled with snippets from a variety of classic East Coast anthems, Eastern Philosophy is a nostalgic postmodern tribute to a time when the best rap records ever recorded were unleashed on the world by the likes of Rakim, KRS One, Nas, Gangstarr, Biggie Smalls and the mighty Wu-Tang Clan. He might be from Connecticut but give Apathy some credit, in his youth Ap studied under MC TC Izlam in the Universal Zulu Nation's New Haven chapter and truth be told, the kid's mic game is all New York. Like Rakim so famously said, "it ain't where you're from, it's where you're at".
While Eastern Philosophy champions an often lost aesthetic and boasts a certain swagger generally missing in rap since the mid-nineties; the album is far from a "style over substance" effort. Time and time again Apathy chooses to break new ground and challenge us with fresh subject matter. On the LP's memorable lead single "The Winter" Ap ponders the day to day hardships of enduring the year's meteorological low-point. With Wu-Tang songstress Blue Raspberry on the hook, Apathy's lyricism descends into a dark narrative that strikes the listener in perfect unison with an eerie, dungeon-core soundscape orchestrated by rising CT producer Chum The Skrilla Guerilla.
On "All About Crime", produced by Celph Titled, Apathy avoids chronicling the oft-stereotyped exploits of street corner gangsters, instead electing to describe the criminal element as something that has been woven into the fabric of our society way before the crack era. "It's been all about crime pretty much since the beginning of time / Early men killed each other for objects that shine / Now businessmen do it with progress is mind / It ain't all about the streets, projects and nines".
With "The Buck Stops Here", produced by 8 th & Verytygo, Ap details the travels of a single dollar bill as it passes through the hands of many seemingly disconnected characters. Tying distant lives and unrelated events together by looking through the eyes of George Washington, Apathy delivers another thought provoking display of lyricism while the one and only DJ Evil Dee is featured on the hook cutting up the classic Audio Two b-boy anthem "Top Billin".
In all Apathy delivers the type of effort that needs to be thoroughly commended by all those who still bump Murda Muzik, Liquid Swords and Moment Of Truth. There's no replacing the classics but we can look towards the future and see a bright spot in C-T, someone who's got the talent and willingness to accurately represent for the core values of East Coast Hip-Hop. Now let's see if Atlantic Records can get their act together and put out this kid's major label debut.
Sometimes we forget what Hip-Hop is really about and looking at the world around us often makes it a concept that's even harder to understand. Hip-Hop seems to be everywhere. Hip-Hop clothing, Hip-Hop cars, Hip-Hop jewelry, Hip-Hop movies, Hip-Hop toys, Hip-Hop ringtones. Over the past decade we've seen a staggering flurry of Hip-Hop inspired consumer products. However, we must not forget that when we look at a billboard or a magazine ad, we are not seeing Hip-Hop. What we are seeing is how commerce and industry has been influenced by a culture. As director Bob Bryan reminds us in the fifth installment of his award-winning documentary series Graffiti Verite', Hip-Hop is not something that is sold at your local department store.
With Graffiti Verite' 5: The Sacred Elements of Hip-Hop, Bryan travels to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to film a four day Hip-Hop workshop put on by students and faculty at Metro High School and inspired by earlier volumes the director's Graffiti Verite' series. While Iowa may be the last place on earth we think of when someone mentions Hip-Hop, Bryan quickly reveals that America's heartland provides the perfect setting for Hip-Hop culture to emerge and thrive in its purest form. Watching Metro High School students explore and experiment with elements of MCing, breakdancing, DJing and graffiti art, it suddenly becomes apparent how universal these building blocks really are. In one of the many interviews with workshop participants and onlookers, a man in his seventies previously unfamiliar with the culture, describes how he now views Hip-Hop to be in many ways analogous to religion. “The MC would be the pastor and the DJ would be the choir director”, he explains.
As teachers, parents and local residents offer their impressions, students collaborate over four days to paint a mural, put on a dance show, write and recite poetry and learn some Hip-Hop fundamentals. While many in the community are surprised and impressed with the results, workshop participants are excited and inspired by the Hip-Hop curriculum. In effect, Graffiti Verite' 5 successfully demonstrates the value of Hip-Hop as a multi-intelligence learning model through which students can express themselves and learn from one another while simultaneously building a variety of skills. Bob Bryan has even gone so far as to create a Hip-Hop curriculum teacher's workshop guide, a tool available to any educators who may be interested in taking a lesson from the director's latest film. An advocate of using Hip-Hop as a tool to bridge the growing divide between teachers and students, Bryan describes his time at Metro as revealing of the “educational value and liberating therapeutic power contained within the unique elements of the contemporary Hip-Hop movement”.
In the end Graffiti Verite' 5 reminds us what corporate marketers never learned and what some of us forget all too often. Hip-Hop isn't about what you can purchase or acquire to make yourself stand out, rather it is about what you can create or express to better yourself and those around you.
To learn more about the Graffiti Verite' Hip-Hop documentary series and director Bob Bryan please visit www.GraffitiVerite.com.
Many years ago, at least it seems that way, I learned that when you write a news story you should always put the most important thing first and then work your way down through the details. Of course, this is counterintuitive for most of us since when we write essays or book reports in school we are always taught to first outline our reasoning and then tie everything together at the end. Well, I am going to write this review like a proper news story, conclusion first. My conclusion is following: Grandmasters is the Gza album every Wu-Tang fan and every real Gza fan has been waiting for. This is the one to pick up. If you want to go ahead and get it now and not even finish reading this review, that's fine by me.
Hearing Gza's vocals melt through the mystical soundscapes of the legendary DJ Muggs, you begin to forget things. You begin to forget that Rza hasn't overseen a Wu-Tang solo project in five years. You begin to forget any doubts you ever had about Gza's last album Legend of The Liquid Sword. You forget that Grandmasters is a special project between Gza and Muggs and technically isn't a Wu-Tang album. You turn up the volume real loud like you do when Shadowboxin' comes on. You stop for a second and realize that behind the boards is the same cat that produced How I Could Just Kill A Man, Hand On The Pump and Jump Around.
With appearances from Raekwon, Rza, Masta Killa, Prodigal Sunn and Sen Dog as well as soundscapes reminiscent of classic Gza joints like 4th Chamber, Killa Hills 10304 and Beneath The Surface, Grandmasters will have die hard Wu-Tang fans, and especially Gza fans, on the edge of their seats. Muggs and Gza deliver a real Hip-Hop album. Not just a collection of tracks thrown together, Gradmasters presents the listener with a single cohesive narrative. Beautifully accented with a series of interludes explaining the methodologies of chess, the twelve track LP opens in grand fashion with an instrumental introduction that hints at the style of music that is to follow.
As always, the Gza takes it upon himself to weave the substance into the fabric. As a master storyteller Gza rivals any of his past work on Exploitation Of Mistakes recounting a murder mystery that unfolds with a series of twists and turns like an episode of Law And Order. Meticulously detailing a crime investigation, the man known as The Genius hits us with a verbal account so potent and compelling that it brings a feature film to light inside your mind. While Gza has impressed us in the past by pushing the limits of his craft with complex layers of verbal bi-play on tracks like Labels, Publicity and Fame, Exploitation Of Mistakes breaks new ground by challenging the level of descriptive detail that can be brought forth through rhyme form. Gza's uncanny ability to weave narratives that take you deep beneath the surface is showcased profoundly on Grandmasters.
As we move deeper, Rza, Gza and Raekwon come together to blaze the standout posse cut Advance Pawns. Highlighted by a full arrangement of strings and Sen Dog shouting in Spanish between verses, Advance Pawns delivers a full throttle Wu-Tang Clan / DJ Muggs assault of the senses. “Them Clansmen are the nucleus of Hip-Hop / There's no room for error, MCs will get dropped”
Another standout cut is All In Together Now on which Gza delivers a powerful tribute to the late Ol' Dirty Bastard. Painting a provocative portrait Gza dispels longstanding stereotypes and offers may rare insights into the life of Ason Unique. “He was intelligent, his style was relevant / I can name ten niggas that stole an element / From the high speed chase to the court arraignments / All of the above was entertainment / He caused earthquakes just from experiments / Some thoughts got lost, not knowing where it went / His songs had a rep for many inducements / Giving birth to new styles after recruitments / There's no replacement or any supplement / He was a new testament, what he said what he meant”.
Perhaps the most satisfying moment of Grandmasters comes on Illusory Protection. As Gza goes hard after wack MCs, Muggs delivers a driving ambient soundscape accented by his trademark high-pitched synthetic horns. A child of the Bomb Squad, Muggs' prolific use of horns and sirens has often set him apart over the course of his career as a beatsmith willing to push the envelope and bring the heat. And the Gza just kills it. “What some talk about has little or no bearing / Put it next to some real shit, it's far from comparing / Materialistic emcees come off boring / Meanwhile I be sketching up composite drawings / Through the years, a countless number of victories / Changing the era, we swarm unpredictably /They rhyme book is not difficult to manage / I leave a mic in a bandage from catastrophic damage”
Masta Ace has had a well-documented history of dropping classic albums under the radar. If you are lucky enough to own the Slaughterhouse LP or Take A Look Around, you know the deal. Since his 1988 debut alongside Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap and Craig G on the signature posse cut The Symphony, Ace has dropped five full length albums bringing his unique sound and outlook to Hip-Hop fans around the globe. When it comes to making music in the present tense; as Ace himself puts it; “there's gotta be a way to bring across that feeling of where I grew up and that atmosphere I grew up in without being just a fake thug on a record." With A Long Hot Summer the pioneering rapper eloquently communicates the realities of his life while painting provocative, insightful and humorous narratives in retrospect of his storied career in the music business. As a lyricist Masta Ace seems to age like a fine wine; and when it comes to content Ace continues to be more fresh and clever than ever. Some rappers struggle to think of new things to talk about; with Masta Ace it's been the exact opposite – as Ace matures his lyrics have grown to be even more insightful and his vernacular even more vivid. Now if only more people would turn off the radio and tune in.
While A Long Hot Summer drops on Ace's independent M3 label with little mainstream fanfare - rest assured, it will have a major impact on all those who cop the record. It's almost surreal to see an artistic work of such magnitude go virtually unnoticed while major labels stay steadfast in their course of pushing shallow themes of greed and lust on teenage audiences; it's truly sad. If you listen to A Long Hot Summer you'll hear a lot of songs that would sound real good on the radio. But you see, Hot 97.1 is not about the music, they're about making money. That's why people need to shut that shit off, go on the Internet, read reviews like this and go cop the album. A Long Hot Summer by Masta Ace.
Just as the epic Disposable Acts (2001), A Long Hot Summer is loosely tied together by a single storyline accented by seven unforgettable skits which find Ace opposite his sidekick and part time manager Fats Belvedere. As the two hit the road doing shows and enjoying life Fats aims to profit off a side hustle which winds up landing both him and Ace in jail by the end of the 21 track LP. A Long Hot Summer is actually the prequel to Disposable Acts. Disposable Act begins with Ace's character being released from jail. With outstanding production from a broad range of studio junkies including 9th Wonder, DAMS, DR Period and DJ Serious, A Long Hot Summer is easily one of 2004's best rap albums.
On the soul driven Good Ol Love Masta Ace proclaims his love for Hip-Hop and urges fans to show their support for the true art form. H.O.O.D. is the worldwide ghetto anthem and tribute to all those who grew up poor all over the world. “They got wild and rough blocks where its hard to trust cops / Get shot on your way to school at the bus stop / That kid was a fine scholar / Hear his mama whine and holler - he died for nine dollars / Young mothers try to learn the ropes / And them one dollar lotto games turn to hopes,” raps Ace reflecting on his days as a youth growing up in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
Another standout cut is Beautiful, produced by Koolade this track has already generated considerable buzz as an advance single in Europe and is starting to turn heads in the US as well. Bringing Hip-Hop back to a time that was more pure and whole, Masta Ace processes an almost uncanny ability to remain classic and current in the same breath. “This ain't hugging the block with a gat in your hand / This is Boca Raton on a catamaran / With the sun beaming down where you at in the sand / I feel like I'm more than a cat with a plan / This feels like it's more than a flash in the pan / This is milk in a cup and cash in your hand / This is a warm coat on the coldest night / That's why I stole this mic / Ya'll don't hold it right”.
With The Ways Ace paints an extremely amusing portrait of corruption and violence in the music industry. “A label guy is like a bitch in disguise / He just tryin' to stay alive / See the twitch in his eyes? / A punch and slap will put his lunch in his lap / And a kick to the gut will put a hunch in his back / No teeth and gummy and now he talk funny / But he set to sign off on that tour support money / This nation's built on violent intimidations / Turn cats to hospital patients they more gracious”. Framed by plenty of gratifying punch lines, Ace's lighthearted bitterness towards the music industry is one of several reoccurring themes on A Long Hot Summer. If there was one CD I bought in 2004 that was worth the $14, this is it.
With a backlash against commercially manufactured rap acts well underway, in 2004 independents continue to gain ground. It's become apparent that, after a long hiatus, skills may once again become relevant as a measure of talent in rap music. Today more fans continue to forego mainstream artists and their often tired and predictable decor in favor on the substance and intellect displayed by lesser known but more provocative independent MCs.
Cormega was never supposed to be on an independent label; this was a major label MC in the mid to late 90's when New York was making a big comeback against the West coast. Picture what Jadakiss does now, Mega could've been doing back in '98; so figure it like that if you can follow. Mega would've been the slick rhyming ill dude to kick that fire verse at the end of a Total track (post Biggie, of course). But that never happened, shelved by Def Jam and caught up in contract disputes for years, Cormega found himself locked out of the game he was destined to thrive in.
While for many this would've been the end of the road; Cory McKay found a way to persevere in spite of circumstance. Starting his own Legal Hustle imprint in 2001 and securing distribution independently, Cormega proceeded to release two stellar LPs in as many years. While critics took notice, the buzz began spreading through the streets, into the suburbs and around the world. Mega had crazy skills on the mic and just about anyone who heard his albums recognized this immediately. With virtually no advertising budget The Realness and The True Meaning sold a quarter of a million copies combined.
After taking two years off to raise his daughter, Montana is finally back with his 3rd official offering, Legal Hustle, the album; this time around with even deeper distribution courtesy of Koch Records. Even though Cormega is featured on every song, Legal Hustle is technically not meant to be a full length Cormega LP but rather a compilation featuring new artists on the Legal Hustle label as well as special guests such as M.O.P., AZ, Ghostface Killah, Kurupt and Large Professor. While Legal Hustle features numerous quality cuts, the LP does not quite have the feel of Cormega's previous two albums. In the past Mega has generally stayed away from guest appearances; by contrast, Legal Hustle is an entire album of collabos.
The obvious complaint in this case would be - not enough Cormega. It's as if Mega has made himself a sidekick on his own album; although it must be noted that this was by design given the format. As Cormega explains it: “This album allowed me to experiment with different things that wouldn't normally be on a Cormega solo album. Certain songs were done out of friendship with other artists and others were to show my versatility. My solo albums will not have as many guest appearances”. In the end, this compilation turns out to be a welcome change of pace; expect the unexpected.
Dona, Legal Hustle's first artist signee, is featured on five of the seventeen songs and shines bright. After seeing Dona perform live alongside Cormega in NYC, it's hard to believe that the voice you hear on record comes out of the same body you see on stage. Dona rhymes hard for a dude, let alone a female. On Hoody, Dona and Mega kill the track back to back rhyming over that Party And Bullshit beat made famous by one Christopher Wallace. “Yo, fuck all that don and king shit / I'm trying to be a convict who got rich like Don King did / You small minded, I'm a behemoth / Your stash is like half what I spent on sneakers”, Mega quickly reminds us that he has not lost a step. Now, if you are interested in what Dona looks like feel free to browse some pics from the Cormega and Immortal Technique show in NYC. Dona's debut album My Brother's Keeper is forthcoming on Legal Hustle Records in early 2005.
The compilation's lead single Let It Go featuring M.O.P. qualifies as a classic high adrenaline street anthem while Sugar Ray and Hearns with Large Professor revisits a familiar collabo off The True Meaning with favorable results. On Deep Blue Seas featuring Kurupt and Jayo Felony, Mega switches up his flow and rhymes fast; it's not quite like when BIG flowed with Bone Thugs but in the same spirit and very impressive nonetheless. Tony Starks and AZ both turn in quality verses, reinforcing a collection of beats and rhymes that keeps you guessing but rarely lets you down.
On Bring It Back Mega chronicles the origin of Hip-Hop giving credit to numerous artists who paved the way while challenging present day MCs to step up their game. “It doesn't matter if your chain is platinum / If what you say is average / You will not be mentioned with the greatest rappers”. In all Mega turns in a quality performance although he does not dominate the landscape of this album, appearing as a solo artist on only two tracks. Dona is definitely the big surprise; will this female MC be able to step into the spotlight and make an impact is the big question. Production on Legal Hustle is excellent all around with tracks from The Feil Brothers, Ax Tha Bull, Emile, Ayatollah and J. Love, among others.
Currently on a sixteen city tour with Ghostface Killah, Cormega is finally making that splash. Some of us have been waiting for this since '96! The next solo Cormega release will be The Testament which actually predates both The True Meaning and The Realness. Cormega recorded The Testament while signed to Def Jam in the late 90's. Although the album was never released or promoted by the label, it's considered a classic by former Def Jam staffers.
It's funny ‘cause before writing this review I had chance to read what some of the other so called critics had to say about Infamous Mobb's sophomore effort Blood Thinker Than Water Vol. 1. What happened was; I got the album way before the release date but somehow some shit happened, as it always does, and before I knew it everyone else had already written something and I was like the last one to comment on this joint. Well, as usual most of the other critics missed the point. Many would recap the longstanding relationship between Infamous Mobb and Mobb Deep (who hasn't went over that already?) and then offer some lackluster comments as to why the album had some high points but lyrically fell short of some obscure standard guarded by witty commercial grade MCs (cop out).
But what happened to mentioning that Infamous Mobb is like the fuckin' hardest sounding group since Gravediggaz. Now I'm not talking beats; ‘cause there's a variety of beats on the album; I'm talking strictly voices and delivery. G.O.D. Father Pt3 and Twin Gambino back to back makes Prodigy and Havoc sound like The Jackson 5, and that's not easy by any stretch of the imagination. These dudes are fuckin' hard, raw, period. And if you think the album is a front, watch the DVD, ‘cause it ain't. Take a two hour documentary style tour through the infamous Queensbridge housing projects and you will see for yourself where this music comes from. Ain't nothin' sweet.
The DVD comes free with the album and features in depth interviews with Infamous Mobb, Mobb Deep, the Alchemist, Ron Artest of the NBA's Indiana Pacers (who is a Queensbridge native) and many others. Filmmaker Jordan Tower paints a gritty and often startling portrait of a lifestyle that, to many, may only be accessible through the words on a CD they purchase in a record store. In one segment Twin Gambino reveals that he is partially illiterate since he dropped out of school at the age of 12 to hustle, “I can't even read man; I can't even read them contracts I'm signing, I get my lawyer to do it,” Twin chuckles. In a subsequent scene Twin recounts a shootout, pointing to chipped bricks on a nearby building as evidence.
Blood Thicker Than Water Vol. 1 features production from Alchemist, Masberg, Nucleus, Ric Rude and Sebb, among others. Nucleus delivers the hardest hitting cut on LP with the infectious Watch Your Step. Twin Gambino, Ty Nitty and G.O.D. Father Pt3 blaze the track all the way through on this up-tempo street anthem reminiscent of 90's classics such as Broken Language (Smoothe Da Hustler & Trigger Tha Gambler) and Time 4 Sum Aksion (Redman).
On tracks like Empty Out (featuring Prodigy) and Greenback, both produced by Masberg, Infamous Mobb stays true to Queensbridge crime rap, painting vivid ghetto tales over dark soundscapes accented by muffled horns and piano keys. Chinky shines as she sings the chorus on the Alchemist laced Gunz Up while Big Noyd brings some extra ammo on Tonight. While not lyrically stunning as far tricky metaphors and wordplay go, Infamous Mobb more than makes up for it with their delivery and subject matter. Blood Thicker Than Water is a no holds barred, straight gutter, crime rap album. No stuffy record exec ever listened to this LP and picked what songs would go on it, and that's the biggest difference of all. Blood Thicker Than Water was released on an independent label and executive produced by Infamous Mobb. The DVD is easily worth the $15 on its own.
Officially, his career began in the summer of 1984 when a rap group called Scott La Rock and the Celebrity Three released the record Advance. However, as KRS-One would probably tell you himself, his real life education started at the age of 14 when young Lawrence Parker left his home in pursuit of a dream he would not fully realize for many years to come. The year was 1979; Hip-Hop was young and growing rapidly.
Bouncing around New York City homeless shelters, the future leader of rap's collective consciousness was dubbed Krishna after taking a particular interest in the Hare Krishna spirituality teachings followed by several of the anti-poverty workers. Hare Krishna spirituality can be traced back to ancient India and emphasizes mind elevation as the path to pleasure and tranquility. Krisha spent his days playing basketball and reading books while watching the street culture of Hip-Hop blossom around him. Soon he became an active participant, taking up graffiti and writing KRS-ONE, an acronym for Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everybody, a phrase that would soon become a philosophy. It is around this time that Krishna met youth counselor Scott Sterling, known today to his fans as DJ Scott La Rock. Realizing that they shared a common interest in music, the two began collaborating.
Comprised of DJ Scott La Rock, MC Quality, Levi167 and KRS-One, Scott La Rock and the Celebrity Three broke up shortly following their debut amid contract disputes with the group's record label. In the winter of 1984 KRS-One and Scott La Rock started a new group called the Boogie Down Crew. In 1987, the duo, now going by Boogie Down Productions, released the landmark album Criminal Minded. A few months later Scott La Rock was killed in the Bronx, reportedly while trying to break up a dispute. The rest is history.
Although many thought Boogie Down Productions would fold after Scott La Rock passed; KRS-One has released twelve full length albums since 1987 including By All Means Necessary, Ghetto Music, Edutainment, BDP Live Hardcore, Sex And Violence, Return of the Boom Bap, KRS ONE, I Got Next, The Sneak Attack, Spiritual Minded, The Mixtape and now in 2003, Kristyles.
Rarely adhering to any trends throughout his career KRS-One is recognized as one of Hip-Hop culture's most proactive trendsetters. With regard to rap music in particular, KRS is often credited with the introduction of the reggae crossover style of MCing; a verbal aesthetic championed today by Bootcamp MCs Tek and Steele, among others. KRS-One is also the first MC to rhyme off beat, a style imitated by countless followers. While his accomplishments in rap phonetics are certainly noteworthy, the majority of KRS-One's accolades have come as a direct result of the MC's ability to consistently reinvent the content, character and direction of rap music as an entire genre by delivering thoughtful narratives with a style so charismatic and so forceful, it remains unparalleled to this day. In 2003 KRS-One continues to prevail as one of the most powerful and enduring forces behind the positive growth and evolution of Hip-Hop music and culture.
Often referred to as “The Teacher” or “The Philosopher” KRS-One's fusion of Afrocentric consciousness and urban intellect has brought the rapper around the globe as Hip-Hop's most prolific ambassador. Having lectured at Harvard, Yale, Vassar, Columbia, N.Y.U. and Stanford, KRS-One has recently added to his list of accomplishments by releasing the book Ruminations in July of 2003. An introspective account of issues ranging from spirituality and popular culture to education and politics, Ruminations is yet another testament to the cultural phenomenon that is KRS-One. If you are still not convinced after reading the book just listen to the new album and you will see for yourself why KRS is still #1. Plain and simple, whether it gets recognized as such or not; Kristyles is a modern day Hip-Hop classic. We said it right here and you better believe it.
If you go to MTV.com and do a search for KRS-One, you can read the rapper's biography (the same exact bio, word for word, also appears on VH1.com). “Although a new rap hierarchy superseded the old school style of MCing represented by KRS-One, his commercial and creative decline during the 90's should not detract from the importance, quality and influence of his work”, reads the last sentence of the brief account.
While certainly that may be one way of looking at it, the real story goes something more like this. By the time the early 90's came around, record labels and other commercial entities engaged in the distribution and marketing of rap music had recognized the potential of certain rap acts to cross over into the mainstream. The goal then became to fashion artists who would be able to attain pop notoriety and recognition by generating sales outside the rap genre. Typically such artists, while often well arranged, employed shallow diluted themes which paled in comparison to the introspective lyrics of Hip-Hop's most forward thinking MCs including Chuck D, KRS-One and Rakim.
After helping thrust rap music to the forefront of pop culture; the leaders of Hip-Hop's renaissance became disenfranchised as their access to mainstream media was cut off as abruptly as it had been granted. Through a process similar to reverse engineering, corporate America had learned to manufacture a product which they could label Hip-Hop and sell to kids in middle-class suburban neighborhoods. The guidance and services of authentic Hip-Hop disciples were no longer needed. In fact, as Hip-Hop was never intended to glorify the stereotypical mainstream themes of lust, greed and violence, artists who chose to consciously stay true to the roots and moral teachings of the culture found themselves on the outside looking in.
You see; KRS-One never declined in the 90's. It is the mainstream characterization of rap music that declined. The corporate standard by which the authenticity of rap music and the credibility of rappers was measured had sunk to a level so low as to encompass artists, themes and subject matter irrelevant in the natural settings of Hip-Hop culture. Today, while commercially successful, many mainstream rappers continue to be wrapped up in tired cliché's consistent with the marketing convictions of their corporate sponsors. Their work remains immaterial to the progress and direction of rap music and Hip-Hop culture.
Never one to play the passive bystander, on Kristyles KRS-One flips the script on the industry once again; clearly proving that in 2003 he remains as relevant and as lyrically on-point as ever! It is MTV and mainstream rap radio that have become irrelevant to Hip-Hop, KRS argues. Certainly he could not have put forth a more convincing argument than the one offered on Kristyles. 17 tracks to the dome. No fluff. 100% Skill. For those of you who thought KRS-One fell off after releasing a gospel album. Think again.
On Gunnen' Em Down, KRS brings the battle straight to the face of commercial rap. "You see them cats on TV playing a role / Gassin' y'all! Them cats be over 30 years old! / Actin' all dirty and cold / None of my classic albums they was worthy to hold / I'm concerned with the soul, understand / When we was slappin' up rappers, they was doin' the runnin' man / You don't know my style? We be straight gunnin' man / If you don't know, you better ask your older brother man". KRS rips apart the track, taking it upon himself to show us what real skill on the microphone is all about.
With Do You Got It, KRS continues his assault on mainstream media, proclaiming, "I don't need radio or TV / All I wanna do is recite my poetry". At a time when rappers are manufactured through elaborate marketing campaigns and high budget videos, is there a more relevant topic? "Radio, these suckas never play me or Chuck / But do you think we really give a [f*ck]?" spits KRS on Ya Feel Dat, a standout track produced by DJ Tine Tim on which KRS also addresses the subject of flossing; "My wrists ain't lit up, I don't even live that life / Gold, diamonds, platinum I give to my wife / See diamonds are a girl's best friend not mine / You got it; fine. But what about that rhyme?"
Ain't The Same features a more laid back KRS-One urging for the return of authentic Hip-Hop. Drawing on the distinction between Hip-Hop as a powerful tool for empowerment as opposed to a commercial product to be bought and sold, KRS eloquently compares and contrasts the intent of the Hip-Hop's founding fathers with the themes infecting rap music today. Ain't The Same is a track that every young rap fan should hear. Unfortunately too few will get the chance.
On 9 Elements, KRS appends the Hip-Hop portfolio of elements to include Beatboxing, Street Fashion, Street Language, Street Knowledge & Street Entrepreneurialism; certainly worthy additions to the traditionally recognized four components. With Return of the Boom Bap production, Kristyles hits hard, track after track after track with infectious driving beats courtesy of Da Beatminerz, Ghetto Pros and Kenny Parker, among others. Without any doubt, this is certainly the album we have been waiting for! The sad part is that Krystyles features at least half a dozen radio hits that will never make it to the airwaves. Unfortunately in this day and age marketing budgets have grown to overshadow skills. It is ironic that true Hip-Hop continues to survive today just as it started 30 years ago, without radioplay, videos or mainstream media coverage. Perhaps that is how it was always supposed to be. If you want real Hip-Hop, this is it. Now go get the album.
The year is 1992. Dr. Dre's The Chronic is released on Death Row Records shifting the focal point of rap music from New York City to Los Angeles and exposing street rap to a never before realized commercial fan base. Concurrently a feud begins to gather steam as Snoop Doggy Dogg appearing on the classic Chronic cut Nuthin' But A “G” Thang forcefully replies to New York rapper Tim Dog's 1991 Compton diss track, not so casually titled Fuck Compton.
California rappers and the California style of rap music featuring heavy basslines and catchy hooks quickly grow to commercial prominence. Having clearly stood in the capital of Hip-Hop since 1974 New York rappers are for the first time overshadowed as their gritty, introspective flows fall out of commercial favor. Before Enter The 36 Chambers and Ready To Die brought back the east coast Black Moon was the battle cry of New York City.
Its ironic that only several months prior to his death Tupac Shakur flew several rappers from New York out to his home in California to record the album One Nation; among them were lead Black Moon MC Buckshot and fellow Boot Camp soldiers Tek and Steele of Smif 'N' Wessun. Tupac gave Buckshot the name BDI Thug which he caries with him to this day. The album One Nation is yet unreleased but BuckShot and Tupac appear together on the song Men At Arms which can be found on the unofficial Tupac LP Makaveli 2.
It's been over 10 years since Enta Da Stage and after waiting over six years for War Zone, Total Eclipse is definitely something to be excited about. While production on Enta Da Stage and War Zone was done entirely by Da Beatminerz aka DJ Evil Dee and Mr. Walt, Total Eclipse takes a slightly different direction by also featuring tracks from Coptic, Noltz and Moss among others. Tek, Steele, Starang Wondah and Sean Price aka Ruck of Heltah Skeltah shine on guest appearances while Buckshot weaves situational plots and educates the listener time and time again. Utilizing a unique flow and dominant mic presence Buckshot has always been able to keep the listener's attention and get his message across. On Total Eclipse he does so with the highest degree of attention and skill trading verses with focused partner in crime 5FT.
On Confusion, up and coming rappers are convincingly educated about some of the industry's harshest realities. Industry rule number ten thousand and eighty / Record company niggas are shady, baby / Definitely never maybe / You'll have to be a pain in the ass / Like fuck you pay me; spits Buck over a standout track produced by DJ Static.
Pressure Iz Tight produced by Da Beatminerz is the fastest cut on the LP and features tight aggressive rhymes by 5FT and Buckshot who rip up track after track with clever introspective dialogues interwoven with blunted flows. The themes entailed in Total Eclipse are diverse as they are complex and relevant. Never descending into the many redundant trends permeating rap music today Black Moon continues to elevate their trademark style, arguably reaching a level unseen since their 1992 debut.
Total Eclipse is not just a collection of tracks to flip through, rather it is an album you can listen to over and over again from beginning to end; delivered by veterans at the top of their game. This is what the true fans have been waiting for. Nuff said. Now go get the album.
Other projects forthcoming on Buckshot and Big Dru Ha's Duck Down Records label include the highly anticipated 3rd album from the Cocoa Brovas (aka Smif 'N' Wessun) as well as solo albums from Sean Price and O.G.C.'s Starang Wondah. For all the latest Boot Camp news stay tuned to www.DuckDown.com .
The architects of postmodern Hip-Hop, Gangstarr is constantly teetering on the edge. Never overexposed; remaining just visible enough to be heard by those who know. Always relevant but rarely reaching the masses. Never, never overrated. Some may not realize that when Guru and Premier talk about redefining the Gangstarr formula to keep pace with the times, the real subject matter at hand is the fate of Hip-Hop itself. Carefully assessing the landscape since 1989's No More Mr. Nice Guy, Guru's flow has matured like a fine wine while over the same span of time Premier has crafted some of the best tracks in Hip-Hop's history. Anyone who thinks Gangstarr is underground is either ignorant to Hip-Hop or a poser. Any Hip-Hop writer who promotes that same outlook needs to take a serious look in the mirror. It's time to recognize the real. It's not just the voice.
Gangstarr's last full length LP, 1998's Moment of Truth, got four and a half mics in The Source and that wasn't enough. It's funny to see Guru and Preem's newest release The Ownerz rated a mere L in the pages XXL (loosely equivalent to three mics). It is often the case that mediocre tabloid reviews may negatively impact subsequent album sales. Rarely does the same formula work in reverse as it does here. I never believed XXL for a second. The Ownerz dropped on June 24th. I copped the album in the early afternoon of the same day. I was right. The Ownerz is amazing. While XXL's characterization of Guru as the most consistently adequate MC in Hip-Hop is laughable, it is very much consistent with the magazine's recent direction including June's Murder Inc. cover. But this isn't about XXL, it's about Gangstarr. So let's get back to the program.
There have been very few instances in rap, or in any genre of music for that matter, where an artist has grown hungrier and come harder with each consecutive LP. As we absorb the wealth of material entailed in The Ownerz it is important to realize that Gangstarr stands on the verge of doing just that. By any standard, however, it would be hard to top Moment Of Truth, arguably the best Hip-Hop album released in the ‘90's. With that said; The Ownerz is a masterpiece in its own right. While not necessarily as deep and introspective as the material featured on M.O.T., Guru and Preem have never come harder. The message is clear. Hip-Hop has been hijacked by corporate interests and the wack MCs who do their bidding. Gangstarr is here to expose the truth, brandishing a fully loaded arsenal of beats and rhymes the architects aim to banish all clowns and reclaim the stolen land taken from the true owners of this game. Tired of playing second fiddle to MTV poster boys and fake thugs, Guru and Premier spare few details in giving us a piece of their mind.
The Ownerz opens in classic fashion telling studio gangsters to Put Up Or Shut Up. The chorus hits home, dismantling so many plastic rappers, leaving proverbial ice scattered in the street. “Oh you braggin ‘bout the keys you flipped and who you done up? / Nigga what up? / Put up or shut up! / Popping shit about the chicks and the wips you got? / You think you hot? / Put up or shut up! / Always talking about your dough and your wealth and fame / You's a lame / Put up or shut up! / You got hot beats and kids that can spit mad fire? / You's a liar / Put up or shut up!”
“Since I was 21 years old and legal / I knew the difference between gimmicky gangsters and powerful people”, spits Guru, inviting us to see through a façade that has kept real Hip-Hop in the dark and at the mercy of individuals who seek to exploit and deface an artform in favor of monetary gains.
Flowing over a dark, grimy soundscape, Big Shug and Freddy Foxxx make an appearance on Capture (Malitia Pt. 3), recreating the magic of the original Militia track with a certain degree of success. On the deelo though, the real Militia Pt. 3 comes a few tracks later and goes by the title Same Team, No Games. Featuring relative newcomers to the Gangstarr family NYG's & H. Stax as well as yet another fierce verse by Guru, Same Team, No Games is one more gem to be tucked away in the GangStarr library of hits. At 38, Guru shows no signs of slowing down; “Yo, I'm the Jerry Rice of this / Much too nice to quit / And just so you know / We never liked you kid ”.
Gangstarr's assault on commercialism climaxes on Piece Of Mine. As Premier angrily berates radio DJs for letting program directors dictate their track selection, Guru proceeds to rip apart the fakeness, accusing rappers of misleading the youth by painting pictures that do not exist in real life. “Rappers simply tracing flows and chasing hoes / Frontin' mad hard / That shit's amazing yo! / Producers making tinkerbell beats for them to rhyme on / They ass if they get on the same stage that I'm on”. The message resonates loud and clear.
Snoop Dogg gets into the act and shines on In This Life while Fat Joe and M.O.P. drop in on Who Got Gunz. With too many standout tracks to mention, The Ownerz is another instant classic from postmodern Hip-Hop's founding fathers. Another testament to the fact that platinum plaques don't mean shit. If only more MCs and producers would follow suit and bring their skillz to the battle.
It's been 15 years since Yo! Bum Rush The Show ignited the revolution in sound and thought that is Public Enemy. Its odd that PE made it so big since Chuck D barely ever rapped about fucking bitches or brandishing gats. Some new school heads don't understand Public Enemy. Talking to these people,they seem puzzled. Public Enemy? Why them? They debate great MCs talking ‘bout Biggie, Pac, Gza, Nas, Guru, Pun, Eminem; then you got the one dude who wants to appear as though he has some type deeper understanding of shit and that person will swear by Rakim. As soon as Ra's used up, someone in the discussion counters with KRS; “No Man… The Bridge, now that was crazy!” Then you got someone who's into that indie Hip-Hop shit… and they're like “Yo…Slug from Atmosphere… No man, Eminem stole his whole style from Cage…listen to the CD dog”. Every group also has a dumb motherfucker in it… the dumb fuck is like “Yo, I don't care what you say…The Blueprint was hot”. Sometimes Chuck D gets mentioned and sometimes he doesn't. It doesn't really matter though. There are those that know and carry the torch forward.
Another day, a different debate rages. Among Hip-Hop's elite producers we enshrine Premier, Dre and The Rza. For a second someone forgets about Marly Marl; a big sigh of relief follows his mention as everyone acknowledges that they are, in fact, on the same page. The dude that brought up Atmosphere starts rattling off a list of people no one ever heard of and insists that they are better than the producers thus far mentioned. Nobody disagrees with him. Everyone just nods. Trackmasters are casually brought up so that everyone can have a chance to bash someone. Some honorable mentions are handed out to Pete Rock, Large Professor, Da Beatminerz and with a degree of dissention to Timberland. Then everyone agrees that they are feeling The Neptunes. The dumb fucker is like “Yo, Swizz Beatz is hot dog”. Unfortunately the conversation ends before Hank Shoklee and the Bomb Squad are brought up. It doesn't matter. There are those that know and carry the torch forward.
About two years ago I saw a one page writeup on Public Enemy in the back of an electronic music industry magazine, I forget which one it was. It should have been a cover story though. Through their Bomb Squad production team, Hank and Keith Shoklee pushed the boundaries of sound, defining numerous trends in the progression of electronic music. PE's aggressive driving rhythms are the blueprint for the heart and soul of New York City style techno. You know, that real shit. Go ahead…disagree with me. It doesn't matter. There are those that know and carry the torch forward.
After 15 years Public Enemy is back on an independent label but they haven't stopped doing what they do. Setting trends and redefining the scope of music and expression have been definitive characteristics of PE since the group's inception. The revolution continues today. 1998's He Got Game was the first single artist soundtrack by a rap artist for a film. 1999's There's A Poison Going On was the first world known artist album released on the internet first, immediately getting banned from US record chains. As some of the political turmoil fueling PE's work through the late 1980's and early 1990's has subsided, Chuck D has refocused his message and actions in the arena of emerging music industry markets. A strong advocate of internet file sharing, the hard rhymer hopes to pave the way for musicians in years to come. In November 2000 SlamJamz was launched. Billed as an "internet-first" record company, the label, distributed by Koch Entertainment, released Revolverlution, a collection of new tracks as well as remixes and live versions of classic cuts such as Welcome To The Terrordome, Fight The Power, Shut ‘Em Down and By The Time I Get To Arizona. Revolverlution is similar in format to Greatest Misses aside from the fact that it covers a greater array of material.
Chuck D explains the choice of format as follows:
“One must remember that a new disc can never beat out a group's prime time disc, because the eras can't be carried over and the prime disc is still competing in the same record rack. Because rap is still evolving, classic Hip-Hop acts can't make the same moves that a Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, Madonna, or even Sonny Rollins can make. The combination of heads between 15-45 have different takes on that classic rap act, and what they should release to the public. I feel that a “trilogy within” a compression of new, re-recorded and remixed old, and live tracks is a way that Hip-Hop artists with a 10 year career or more can release viable albums in a “right here, right now marketplace”. Besides when it comes to performances the new records only accent the staple classics from a time past. In this way within the “burn” generation this genre can show more longevity than the hustle mentality that exists in it today”.
The first of three disks to be released over the next 2 years, Revolvelution is another testament to the longevity and relevance of Public Enemy. Take a rap record from the 1980's or even the early 1990's, it doesn't matter what. Put it on and you immediately recognize the sound of an era that has largely expired. Now put on Apocalypse '91. That sound is as fresh today as it was 12 years ago, and that is the difference! We recognize the real and that is why we continue to carry the torch forward. Once again back is the incredible. It's not over yet.
Don't forget to check out BringTheNoise.com , RapStation.com and PublicEnemy.com.
Had it not been slept on so hard, Cormega's first LP, The Realness, would be enjoying classic status right now. Unfortunately things take time for Cory McKay. It's been seven years since Mega stole the show on Affirmative Action. For the Queensbridge MC who is unashamed to rep his hustling roots, a good portion of that time has been filled with conflict and anticipation. I remember receiving a Violator promo tape some time in 1997 with a couple of tracks from Cormega's forthcoming Def Jam debut The Testament. I waited and waited but The Testament was never to be released. For five years, one of Hip-Hop's most anticipated artists sat on the shelf. Contract disputes with Def Jam persisted following a bitter falling out with QB ally and friend Nas. Mega was subsequently cut out of The Firm album featuring Nas, AZ and Foxy Brown and replaced by the enigmatic Nature; and we all know to where that led.
There have been few MCs that have been able to couple meaningful lyrics with a strikingly authentic delivery. Cormega is definitely one of those MCs. Cormega's style is effortless. When you listen to his words, you get a sense that he is just speaking and not meaning to rhyme or flow on purpose, it just happens to be that way, and that is the beauty of it. Conversely and equally impressive is the complexity entailed therein.
Unlike some of Cory McKay's previous acquaintances, The True Meaning stays true to the spirit of Hip-Hop. Released on Mega's own independent label Legal Hustle Records, The True Meaning begins where Legal Hustle's first release, The Realness, left off. "I killed it with The Realness / Now I'm bringing new life / Prestige is an illusion / People tend to lose sight". "All I really lack is fame"; points out Cormega on Ain't Gone Change, an a cappella track equivalent in format to 5 For 40. Flexing a fully loaded lyrical arsenal Mega annihilates the microphone on Verbal Graffiti, a track orchestrated by Hangmen 3 and flavored by Persian jingles.
After spitting venom at Nas for years Cormega breaks down and reconciles the nature of the beef on Love In Love Out. "What's deep is / I had love for you / But through the situations / I can't fuck with you / Trust is a luxury I can't afford / Betrayal's something that I can't Ignore". While many have grown tired of the persistent beef between the two MCs, Love In Love Out is an exceptional track regardless of subject matter. Another quality cut is The Come Up featuring production as well as a rare verse by Large Professor. A Thin Line produced by Buckwild has Mega reprimanding a snitch for breaking the hustler's code of honor and cooperating with police. "There's a thin line between love and hate and you crossed it / You had respect around the way and you lost it / If a coward dies a thousand death, how you gonna live?"
In The Legacy, Cormega reminisces of days gone by while eluding to many of QB's Hip-Hop heroes. In Soul Food he speaks of a love triangle, rhyming over the instantly recognizable beat from 3 Card Molly, a track blessed by The Golden State Warriors in '98. Not being a big fan of love songs, I have to say, Soul Food is a pleasant surprise. While The True Meaning spans many themes there is one unifying aspect to the release: the song writing ability and lyrical dominance of Cory McKay. Do not sleep on Cormega. This is the realness, as advertised.
With his sixth studio album hitting the stores and Jay-Z's momentum fading, Nas has completed his long awaited comeback, reestablishing himself as the frontrunner among New York area commercially viable Hip-Hop artists who also enjoy street credibility. Don't get it twisted, when its all said and done, Nasir Jones will get his props as one of Hip-Hop's most prolific MC's. The only question we wish to address is whether his latest release God's Son will add to the legacy. First, lets recognize the fact that Stillmatic and The Lost Tapes back to back is a hard act to follow. An afterthought that still remains is what would have happened if the best six songs off Stillmatic and the best five songs off The Lost Tapes were released as one album? The philosophical implications of this argument lead us to revisit Wu-Tang's sophomore effort Forever. Its been often asked; why a double? In both cases the answer is clear and that is why we ask the question in the first place. Regardless, what's done is done so please send your hate mail to Columbia Records.
Made You Look, the Chameleon laced street anthem and lead single off God's Son delivers the goods in a fashion reminiscent of Nas Is Like, the Premier gem on Nas's third LP I Am. In a way God's Son is analogous to I Am as both albums were pushed through on the strength of two preceding high quality releases. Will history repeat itself?
An alternate version of Thugz Mansion featuring 2Pac (the original version appears on 2Pac's new LP Better Dayz) is fumbled as Nas spits the lead and the third verse. The original version has Pac doing the lead verse and talking before he breaks into his flow. His initial words and following lyrics interact together to build the meaning behind the concept of Thugz Mansion. With Nas taking the first verse, 2Pac's opening comments are edited out and his verse is abruptly injected into the center of a track that inevitably lacks continuity. The lesson: If you are going to do a song with a dead artist you claim to admire – Let the dead guy spit the first verse!
Nas continues to dazzle us with his Slick Rick inspired old school style on I Can. Rhyming over another Chameleon track, which incorporates Beethoven's Fur Elise, Nas encourages kids to stay drug free and reminds us that only hard work can get you where you want to be. To hear more of Nas rhyming like our favorite British born rapper check out Destroy And Rebuild on Stillmatic. Nas' rendition of Rick's flow is on point, complete with a slight accent and similar intonation.
Last Real Nigga Alive is an interesting track as it chronicles Nas' career from the standpoint of the artist's affiliations over a decade. From the Jay-Z beef to Steve Stout to the controversy of Bad Boy stealing the idea for Ready To Die's album cover from Illmatic (both covers featured a little afro-enhanced black boy) to his relationship with Ghost and Raekwon. Nas covers all the bases and declares himself The Last Real Nigga Alive. For those of you who don't remember, Verbal Intercourse featuring Nas and Ghostface on Raekwon's classic LP Only Built For Cuban Linx easily ranks among the top five early Wu-Tang collabos. Nas' verse from the classic track was a well deserved Hip-Hop quotable of the month in the Summer of '95.
Other highlights include Dance, a touching ode to Nas' recently passed mother produced by Chucky Thompson as well as Get Down and Hey Nas both produced by The Chameleon. It must be further noted that Salaam "The Chameleon" Remi's production coincides with nearly all of God's Son's high points. Other production credits on the album include Eminem, Ron Browz, The Alchemist and Alicia Keys.
In all, while a solid effort, God's Son inevitably falls short in surpassing Illmatic, It Was Written, Stillmatic and The Lost Tapes leaving the release to rank somewhere between I Am and QB's Finest. Lyrically, the album suffers from several awkward concepts such as the hook on The Last Real Nigga Alive. "Lord have mercy / Jesus Christ / He's just nice / He just slice / Like a Ginsu". Jesus Christ slice like a Ginsu? What the fuck does that mean? Does that mean that God's Son slice like The Excalibur?
On the Nas and Jay-Z beef we have one last comment. Forgetting Illmatic, It Was Written is a better album than Reasonable Doubt. Except for Two 22's and Friend Or Foe, Jay gets his props for that. What about Two 22's vs. Rewind? You feel me? Oh, as far as The Blueprint, that doesn't even count for anything.
While others try to pigeonhole innovation, Frankie Bones has personified it for well over a decade. Army Of One is another testament to the Producer/DJ's proactive agility in consistently prevailing against the tides. Progression through regression and redistribution of sound has been a prevalent theme in Frank Mitchell's production philosophy; and appropriately serves as the backdrop for the 21-track opus wholly produced and mixed by the legendary Godfather of Techno.
After opening with the synth-horn enhanced Six Hundred Dollar Man, Bones continues to impress by artfully manipulating two copies of the dreamy banger Inner Freak Style in classic old school fashion. Taking us on a trip through the history of synthesized sound, tracks like Bounce Skate Roll and I Am Ready remind us just how much we miss the sounds of yesterday.
Following a transition from the classic into the synthetic, a lesson in techno awaits as Army Of One progresses through vocal flavored jams It's Good For America and I Am Dumb Hot. A master at intertwining words and music together on a single plane, Bones delivers that talking, driving, ghetto-tech sound that brings to life the spirit of dance floor battles.
As Army Of One heads into the home stretch, Vinyl Trip will surely have many an avid raver reliving that lost mid-nineties mixtape. In the end, we bring it all back to Brooklyn as The Motherfucking Saga Continues breaks into Take A Tablet; Army Of One climaxes one last time. “Take a tablet / Take a pill / We'll pay for it / If we abuse / Our pistol helps”.
While potentially hard to absorb for the casual techno fan, Army Of One is quite the chronicle. As Bones says in the sleeve, “Stop worrying about having the newest promos and learn all you can about the past. Knowledge is power… and power is how you become an Army Of One”.
The long-awaited third solo effort from Shaolin's sharpest lyricist comes at a time when the future of Wu-Tang Clan is uncertain. The Clan dominated Hip-Hop in the 1990's with over 20 combined albums since 1993's classic Enter The Wu-Tang. Releases such as Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Liquid Swords and Forever have secured the Wu's place in history while RZA has safely positioned himself alongside Dre, Marley Marl and Premier as one of the most enduring and forward thinking producers Hip-Hop has ever seen.
So where is the RZA now? That's easy. Working on the score for the new Quentin Tarantino martial arts flick Kill Bill with Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich… where else? Wherever he is, his production and influence has been notably scarce among recent Wu releases. Legend Of The Liquid Sword is no exception. Aside from lacing one track and spitting on another, Prince Rakeem is absent from the credits, leaving the Genius to rely on Beneath The Surface veteran Arabian Night along with Mathematics, DJ Mugz and Jaz-O among others.
The lead single Fame follows in the thematic tradition of Labels and Publicity weaving the names of famous people into a flow that rivals the creativity of any of GZA's previous work; truly a lyrical masterpiece from one of the rap game's most clever and refined wordsmiths. “Water dripped out of Farrah's Faucet in the glass / She was Superfly / Curtis Mayfield her Ass / Chris Tuck-her to a show / Ted Turn-ed her to ho”…the legend lives again in his own words.
Animal Planet is another clever track where GZA employs references across the animal kingdom to paint a sticking metaphor for the human condition. Who else but the GZA can pull something like this off? When you can rap about a zoo and simultaneously bring about themes of street values and ghetto lifestyles you know you are at the top of your game. Ghostface and Streetlife make an appearance on Silent while RZA and Masta Killa provide additional ammunition on the Mathematics laced Fam. After years of perfecting his slurred flow, it seems the RZA has finally got a handle on his often-incomprehensible lisp; or maybe he just learned how to digitally refine his voice. Either way, it is a welcome improvement.
Offering many highlights for die hard Wu heads, Legend Of The Liquid Sword is a respectable release, however, it lacks the continuity and cohesiveness of previous GZA LPs. Recall, RZA produced all but one track on Liquid Swords and executive produced Beneath The Surface. That should tell us something. Legend is more of a collection of tracks rather than an album. Still, it is a collection of tracks from one of the most skilled lyricists in Hip-Hop. Anyone who supports real Hip-Hop music and real Hip-Hop artists needs to own this album.