Vinnie Paz :: God of the Serengeti
Enemy Soil Records
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
"God of the Serengeti" is the second solo album from Vinnie Paz, a follow-up to the well received "Season of the Assassin" in 2010. It's not surprising that it would be critically acclaimed given his long history as the frontman of Jedi Mind Tricks, and they dropped an equally acclaimed album between these two. At this point in Pazienza's career, the only thing he should fear is not fear itself, it's simply finding a way to stay near the apex of underground hip-hop after having been there for so damn long. "God of the Serengeti" doesn't pull any punches in that respect by having DJ Premier produce "The Oracle," one of the most bruising beats from Primo in many a minute. It's bass, distortion, reverberating guitars, slapboxing beats and Biggie samples - SHIT HITS HARD. Vinnie's unbridled ambition is on display when he spits the words "I'm trying to make the same money that Madonna make." I don't know if that's realistically possible for Vinnie Pazienza, but if you don't aim high, you'll never hit anything but the concrete. Actually I don't know if that's obtainable for ANY underground rapper, since having Madonna money would contradict being "underground" in the first place, but let's examine this idea a little more closely. Paz has a devoted following, but he's more than a bit of an anomaly, and not just in hip-hop. There aren't many people who are born Roman Catholic in Sicily and convert to Shia Islam in Southern Philly. As much as I respect his religious choices, I'm still not sure how he reconciles the amount he raps about drinking vodka and swearing profusely - perfectly acceptable for a rapper but not exactly in keeping with his faith."
Big Shug :: I.M. 4-Eva :: Brick Records
as reviewed by Pete T.
"Rap is an innately collaborative genre—even the most mundane "solo" material necessitates the contributions of countless producers and studio technicians—and hip hop history is fraught with the sagas of crews of varying merit built around the success of a single act. Loyalty being a similarly vaunted tenet of rap, such crews frequently enjoy the benefits of their affiliation with said success story via promotion, deals, and collaborations they wouldn't otherwise get, and at times this can lead to criticism of their benefactor. Simply by virtue of being great, legendary acts take constant flak for sharing their gifts with inferior entities. Sure Memph Bleek was never going to approach Hov on the mic, and perhaps there were rappers who could have done more with an album's worth of Pete Rock beats than Deda Baby Pa, but then again Jay and Pete are such singular talents that virtually any collaborator is going to pale in comparison. Depending on who you ask, DJ Premier is the best or at least a top three producer in rap history, yet he too has been faulted for maintaining a stable of fairly interchangeable East Coast MCs to grace his beats. For every master with a four-letter stage name ending in "-ru" there are three or four Lil Daps, Smiley the Ghetto Childs, Shiggy Shas, and Blaq Poets—faceless hood reporters who've inexplicably been cashing in on Premo beats for the better part of two decades. Big Shug first appeared on Gang Starr records in the early ‘90s, but his moment of glory on the "Moment of Truth" posse cut "The Militia" came a long fourteen years ago."
Da$h & Retch :: La Cienega :: Heir Gang
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"While absorbing the frequently excellent "Lord$ Never Worry" and trying to figure out who's who in the A$AP Mob, I stumbled across the name Da$h. It came without the customary 'A$AP' prefix, but with a dollar sign-S, so I figured he might still be an official member of the crew. The internet deigns to tell me two facts about Da$h. He represents his own clique, the Heirs, and he is the nephew of sometime rap mogul Dame Dash. On "La Cienega" he partners with another Heir Gang member, Retch. We don't know if he has a famous rap biz uncle as well, projecting his career based on some kind of inheritance that is to be expected in the future, or if the heirship in question is more of the spiritual sort. La Cienega meanwhile is a major boulevard that runs through Los Angeles that occasionally happens to be mentioned by L.A. rappers. Da$h & Retch themselves typically roam the streets of New Jersey, which is fine as well, but it ain't L.A. Just so we're clear. Nonetheless "La Cienega" does feature a couple of references to the City of Angels. But it's a characteristic of our time that Da$h & Retch don't commit to the theme. What they do commit to is today's drug talk rap delivered over vaguely otherworldly tracks, who in this case are provided by Mordecai Beats. Mordecai does a solid job mimicking Clams Casino et cetera, but like the two rappers he partners with there's zero originality to his creations. The tape is low ambition hip-hop in every respect, purely functional, riding an already rolling wave, because that's how young rappers today apparently have to sound like."
DMX :: Undisputed :: Seven Arts/Fontana
as reviewed by Pete T.
"Our editor Steve 'Flash' Juon closed his January 2000 review of DMX's quintuple-platinum third album "...And Then There Was X" as follows: "With a demanding audience who expects him to turn out product every nine months and convincing album sales that reflect this pent up thirst for D, he may never actually get the time and introspection he needs to pen a perfect release." Of course, there was absolutely no way for our benevolent dictator-for-life to foresee the various obstacles that would befall Earl Simmons from maintaining a regular recording schedule through his late thirties, and "Undisputed" is the dog's first LP in over six years. His personal, legal, and substance issues are no secret and hardly worth discussing here, but as rap is the most biographical of pop music it makes for a compelling prospect from an MC who's already nothing if not compelling. Reading the decade-and-older DMX reviews on this site is particularly fascinating for me because I can't recall a time when X didn't enjoy universal acclaim from hip hop and pop audiences alike. Perhaps my experience is an unusual reflection of the precise time and place I grew up, but among folks I know, even those I'd hardly characterize as big rap fans, X still enjoys somewhat of a cult hero's status. Beyond being one of the fiercest, most charismatic pure spitters to ever rock an East Coast mic, X wasn't unlike Eminem and 2Pac in that he put his vulnerable, volatile emotions at the forefront of his platinum-selling albums, and his decorated criminal record only furthered the notion that it wasn't an act."
The Gaslamp Killer :: Breakthrough :: Brainfeeder
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"William "Gaslamp Killer" Bensussen's stage name comes from San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter. For those who have never been to San Diego, the Gaslamp Quarter is the historic downtown that is home to many of the city's nightclubs, mostly of a slightly frat boy variety. As a young DJ, Bensussen had a penchant for clearing dance floors with his sets, hence the monicker "The Gaslamp Killer." HIs solution for addressing his reputation for killing the vibe at clubs wasn't to change his set list, but to find venues with a vibe more suited to his particular brand of music. He moved to L.A. and hooked up with the Low End Theory, the weekly experimental hip-hop party, joining the likes of Flying Lotus, Nocando, and Nosaj Thing. He's released several E.P.s and mix CDs, and also worked with Gonjasufi. "Breakthrough," his debut, was released on Flying Lotus's Brainfeeder label. The Gaslamp Killer's sound is hard to describe. "Experimental hip-hop" is probably the best description, but only because it is vague. He mixes in acoustic instruments, Middle Eastern music, booming drums, electronica, glitch, and noise. There are elements of rock, hip-hop, avant-garde composition, and whatever the hell it is Gonjasufi does, all mashed together in a bewildering mess."
Heems :: Nehru Jackets :: Sevany.com
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Das Racist announced they had officially broken up over the weekend. Himanshu "Heems" Suri announced the split onstage in Munich, and his former partner Kool A.D. admitted that they had actually broken up months ago, despite the fact that they had been working on a follow-up album and a TV show. The split is not totally surprising given that Heems and Kool A.D. both released solo mixtapes this year. Heems just dropped a new one, but I finally took the time to catch up with Heems' "Nehru Jackets." I had missed it when it came out earlier in the year, and by the time I decided to download it, all of the download links had been removed. I get that piracy is an issue and websites are being more diligent about not posting illegal links to copyrighted materials, but I don't understand why they would remove a link to a FREE mixtape that the artist himself posted. Luckily, the link at SEVANY still works, so I was finally able to listen to it. I'm not sure it was worth the trouble. Heems is full of contradictions. He's managed to turn a novelty song ("Combination Pizza Hut") into a real rap career with Das Racist. He makes jokey rap but deals with serious subjects like racism, identity politics, and police brutality. He's a dudey weedhead who has some serious book smarts. It's as if he can't decide whether he wants to be an Indian-American activist, an academic, a rapper, or a stoner man-child. "Nehru Jackets" doesn't answer the question. The album was released not by a label but by SEVA NY, a non-profit that serves South Asians and West Indians in Queens. It features South Asian rappers spitting verses in their native tongues. Based on that information, you'd think it was a serious project, full of serious rhymes. You'd be wrong."
Illy :: Bring It Back :: Obese Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Illy's "Long Story Short" was one of my favorite albums of 2009 - not just from the Melbourne scene, not just from Australia, but from anywhere in the world people appreciate hip-hop music and culture. His album was the personification of both, and offered those from the States who still sleep on their "Down Under" counterparts a serious wake-up call. Even though it's not practical for most Aussie artists to tour any further than New Zealand, if Illy comes to any part of North America and you love hip-hop, you owe it to yourself to be at his show. If you live in his neck of the woods, no excuses, you should have already been to one already and own an autographed t-shirt. Suffice it to say I'm biased toward Illy already, but "Bring It Back" gives me no reason not to continue to be. Production is largely split throughout between M-Phazes and Trials, though Taku gets a co-credit on "All the Above" featuring Thundamentals and "The Bridge" featuring Elemont and Reason, while One Above does "Heard It All" and Billy Hoyle does "Check It Out." If the song titles sound like hip-hop cliches, that's not really a bad thing, as Illy fancies himself a throwback to an era where your lyrical skills mattered more than the make of your car or size of your rims."
Jai Nitai Lotus :: Something You Feel :: Jai Nitai Lotus
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Not many hip-hop artists pray tribute to Charles Mingus and his magic fingers these days, but Montreal-born Jai Natai Lotus decided to make a statement these days by saluting him on the opening track of his album. The two do have a few things in common - Mingus was a composer and a bandleader, and as a self-produced rapper Lotus can also claim to be the leader of his own band. They both have an eclectic style that critics will strive hard to define, which ultimately may not be summed up by anybody but the artist himself. Most importantly, both Mingus and Lotus are completely uncompromising about their artistic vision - it's their way or it's not any way at all. Though Lotus has previously worked with the likes of Little Brother, Planet Asia and Moka Only at shows, none of them make cameos on "Something You Feel." In fact to be honest the only guest stars I recognize are L.E.S. on "The Heat Stew" and the tag team of Georgia Anne Muldrow & Declaime on the song "Hard Times and Bless." That seems fitting though, as someone who values the expressiveness of his music would not want to be sidelined on his own album by too many big names. To give credit where it's due though, both Karma Atchykah and CeasRock make fine cameos on "Get Gone" and "The Barrel" respectively. Neither is one you'll skip or fast forward on. Even though Jai Nitai Lotus is clearly his own man, not wanting to be like anybody else in the industry or even anything like his own father (who gave up all non-religious music), one can't help but notice a Declaime slash Dudley Perkins type tendency to both the production and flow on "Something You Feel." In fact I found myself checking this CD at least three times during the course of listening to it just to make sure it wasn't on the Stones Throw imprint."
Swamp Thing :: Creature Feature :: Hand'Solo Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Timbuktu, Chokeules and Savillion are hip-hop's latest supergroup, coming together under the moniker Swamp Thing, but they're not from Okefenokee. In fact Canada is not a place I normally associate with brackish waters, though Wikipedia claims there's a bog or two to be found there. That being the case, I sincerely doubt any of them are in Toronto, although there are plenty of movie theaters and hip-hop clubs. Somewhere at the intersection of the two is this group's inspiration, as their bio unapologetically claims they are fans of "good rap and bad b-movies," and this "Swamp Thing" clip would certainly fit comfortable into the latter half. I can only believe most boys my age back then would go just to see Adrienne Barbeau, a sexpot star of horror and science fiction films, and not because DC Comics fans expected an accurate portrayal. The film has achieved a certain level of cult classic status regardless, and undoubtedly this Toronto trio would like "Creature Feature" to achieve the same level. They don't necessarily expect this 13 track album to be a commercial success on the level of "E.T.," but they'd be happy with the profitability of your average "Toxic Avenger" flick - not to mention the amount of devotees that Troma has. It's not hard to picture them getting it right from the start on "123," a song which embraces b-movies the same way Mystery Science Theater lampooned them - with an affection for just how goofy it all is. "
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