Chief Keef :: Finally Rich
Author: Patrick Taylor
"There were almost 500 homicides in Chicago in 2012, mostly shootings, mostly gang-related, and mostly involving young African-American men. The local street rap that eminates from Chicago's most violent districts is called drill music. Drill is slang for revenge, and revenge factors heavily into many of Chicago's homicides. Seventeen-year-old record label head, internet sensation, rapper, and father Keith "Chief Keef" Cozart is a product, chronicler, and possibly participant of the violence in Chicago. He grew up in Chicago's South Side, one of the epicenter of that city's recent wave of shootings, and is the most famous drill music artist. His debut album, "Finally Rich," was released last month. It's hard to listen to Keef's music without thinking about everything except the music. Here's a guy glorifying gun violence who comes from a community wracked by gun violence, and who released his album days after the the most horrific of 18 mass shootings in 2012. A guy who was implicated in the murder of a fellow rapper, who ran into parole issues after Pitchfork stupidly took him to a firing range for a video segment, thus violating his parole, and who has made a name for himself precisely because of his alleged "realness." Like 50 Cent, who appears on the album, Keef comes custom wrapped in the authenticity of a criminal record. He also got a co-sign from Kanye West of all people, who remixed one of his songs and clearly influenced Keef's rapping (more on that later). Fellow Chicagoan Rhymefest called Keef a bomb who was created to destroy, and Lupe Fiasco has also condenmend Keef's music. There have been multiple articles in publications that don't normally cover rap music on the implications of Chief Keef, what his art says about the state of the world, and the tricky racial politics of the few white critics, especially Pitchfork, who celebrate his music."
various artists :: Street Heat - Brick Squad Monopoly & Mizay Entertainment :: Brick Squad/Mizay/XXL Magazine
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Doesn't DJ Khaled look ever so slightly like Action Bronson on the cover of this double disc release? A little paler, a little more plump, and a little bit bushier on the beard and they'd be twinzies. That doesn't matter though because we've got some "Street Heat" to review on disc two. Not just any "Street Heat" mind you, this is CERTIFIED street heat - so says Brick Squad Monopoly and Mizay Entertainment. The latter may not ring a bell, but you should know the former from both Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame among others. I recently got into a passionate debate with one of the readers of RR on our official Facebook page over whether or not critics who aren't from the South can give fair reviews to rappers from the South. Personally I've always felt that growing up in the Midwest gave me an opportunity for equal exposure to all regions of the country - I grew up with Geto Boys, Public Enemy and Digital Underground all sharing equal airplay in my car's tape deck. To me there's just as much opportunity for Bun B, Killer Mike, Big Boi or T.I. to drop a timeless rap classic as Nas or Kendrick Lamar. I feel absolutely no bias for or against the South. The reason this debate becomes so passionate is because of the kind of rappers featured on "Street Heat." There's a distinctive subgenre of Southern hip-hop, often called trap music, which really doesn't sit comfortably side by side with the lyricism of "Trouble Man" or artistry of "Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors." Supporters of trap music will defend it to the death, and they're entirely within their right to do so, just as people who like horrorcore or gangsta rap will stand up for their style. And to be fair there ARE times when trap rap can be entertaining. The style relies a lot on heavy beats and a charismatic delivery, and even Gucci Mane's biggest critics can admit that at times he rises above his own limitations. A good car stereo with lots of bass serves trap well."
various artists :: Times, Rhymes & Beats :: XXL Magazine
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Late in 2012, Best Buy and XXL Magazine teamed up to put a special edition double CD in stores, bargain priced at $5.99, coming complete with a 60 page mini magazine. "Mini" in this case means you have DVD sets that are larger and thicker, but they packed the pages with content, interviewing everyone from Casey Veggies to T.I. to Eve. You can't knock the hustle nor the price, but if you're not careful taking off the shrinkwrap, the compact discs inside will knock the floor. There's nothing securing them inside - not a plastic sleeve nor a single dab of glue - they're just stuck between the pages. As "Times, Rhymes & Beats" was the first to fall out, that's the first one we're going to rap about. At twelve tracks and just under 44 minutes long, "Times, Rhymes & Beats" has a title which implies a grandiose statement within - yet none is forthcoming after pressing play. This is not an extension of the legacy of A Tribe Called Quest, nor is it any form of progressive hip-hop that took place in the last twenty years. If anything this compilation exists as a snapshot of what was poppin' on or about the time it was put together, which means in many ways it represents the best and worst of hip-hop in 2012 - except for The Revelations that is. You can't really count their R&B stylings on "I Forgot to Be Your Lover" for or against this album, and its inclusion would be quite odd were it not a featured song from RZA's soundtrack to "The Man With the Iron Fists." "
Beneficence :: Concrete Soul :: Ill Adrenaline Records
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"As an affiliate of the 90s rap group Artifacts, Beneficence hasn't made too many records of note other than the excellent "Sidewalk Science" released in 2011, an album fully immersed in Brooklyn boom bap. Beneficence continues his infatuation with road formation on the follow-up: "Concrete Soul". It is as apt a name for a hip hop album as there has ever been. Combining the hard, cold image of cracked pavements and damaged city blocks with the essence of humanity is essentially what hip hop music stands for. And the hip hop community has come out in force to support Beneficence, as proven by the whopping 21 guest features. This many features raises the question over whether Beneficence can hold the listener's attention enough not to be lost amongst his colleagues, but this isn't the type of hip hop where the MC in question opens up and drops poignant reflections on life or showcases his knowledge of the dictionary. This is good old fashioned pass-the-mic hip hop, mixing veterans who never quite became household names (Rampage, Nature, Masta Ace) and underground mainstays (D-Flow, El Da Sensei, A.G.) with some hard hitting head-nod production. The first track is a strange decision as it only features Doo Wop introducing himself as if it is his album. He does mention Beneficence towards the end but it's a random verse. Once "Y.W.E." starts with a beat hornier than Pete Rock on Viagra, the soundscapes don't let up. Beneficence holds his own with a gruff delivery that's a mesh of Neek The Exotic and Cam'ron, but the three tracks that feature him on his own show why it was a good decision to call in the troops. That's not to say that Beneficence is a poor rapper, he is lyrically very strong, but his performances tend to move up a level when there's somebody else competing for mic time."
Coolzey :: Live From the Cave @ Dougman :: Public School Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"I'd like to request rappers not send personal notes with their albums. It's not that I don't appreciate the thought, and it's not that I'm trying to single out Coolzey for it, but it disrupts the critical process that goes into reviewing an album. The digital discourse of conversing back and forth via e-mail is far easier to detach yourself from when it comes time to write a review than a handwritten note which says "Hey Flash - how are you doing? How's things in the your neck of the woods? Say hi to my buddy so-and-so next time you see him." The problem is two-fold - one is that you can't give the album to another staffer for review since it was sent to you PERSONALLY. The second problem is that if you decide to review it yourself, bias is attached, because the rapper is treating you like a friend and expects the same treatment back. There's nothing quite as awkward as writing a review that the recipient is likely to write you a follow-up e-mail about (as opposed to another letter) saying "I can't believe you didn't get me Flash. I thought you knew me better than that." So Coolzey, bro, I'm going to take a rather unusual tack for this review - one which the readers of this site are not likely to see again for a long time. First of all I'm going to apologize that this review took a long time, because for all of the reasons listed above in the first paragraph, I didn't know how to approach it. Secondly I've got to ask you - why do you keep listing a website on all of your albums which for all intents and purposes seems to be held by a Japanese domain name squatter? Third of all I have to ask what you were thinking on "Live From the Cave @ Dougman." I know you wrote in your note that "it might not be your kind of thing." Well that's not exactly true my friend. Strictly speaking there's nothing wrong with "Dougman," particularly songs like "Is Better Off Alone," if you're in the mood for some acoustic Kurt Cobain. You see, even though you know me and we both know this site is called RapReviews, I think both of us realize this is not a rap album."
E-40 and Too $hort :: History: Function Music :: Heavy on the Grind Entertainment
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"History? Whatever rappers claim they did, Todd Shaw and Earl Stevens probably did it for real, they been doing it for the longest, and it looks like they'll do it much longer even. The legacy of these two simply goes beyond the comprehension of today's rap clientele, and even longtime observers will struggle to put their combined achievements into perspective. But it isn't really mandatory that we delve too deeply into the amount of history we're dealing with here, since the title is a truncated version of the originally announced "The History Channel" anyway. The double feature is divided into "Mob Music" and "Function Music." 'Function music' is a recently popularized term that describes the more energetic and exuberant party rap made in the Bay Area (hyphy, for instance), while 'mob music' is typically applied to the more slow and sinister NorCal sound of the mid '80s to mid '90s. But while Too $hort and E-40 have at certain points been associated with specific styles or subgenres, more than anything they're two of rap music's longest standing soldiers. Still there are expectations to meet and on "Function Music" the vets approach them head-on with songs the kind of which they delivered already in abundance. There could have been a chance that "Workin' That Trunk" reminisces on the days when they laid the foundation for their careers by selling tapes out the trunks of their cars (in the vein of their '98 duet "From the Ground Up"), instead it's another analogy that combines adult amusement and the world of transportation, the album's second after "Dump Truck.""
Homeboy Sandman :: First of a Living Breed :: Stones Throw Records
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"There's a draft of a review intro in my files that I know is past its due date. It's basically me asking the readership if they remember albums such as The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Ready to Live," Mobb Deep's "Heaven on Earth," The LOX' "Love, Peace & Respect," Ice Cube's "Birth Certificate," Kool G Rap & DJ Polo's "Live and Let Live," Comptons Most Wanted's "Music to Live By," Capone-N-Noreaga's "The Peace Report," or 2Pac's "Me and the World." The wordplay takes a decidedly corny turn when I come up with titles like "It's Illuminated and Heaven Is Cool" (DMX), "Do Good or Smile Tryin'" (50 Cent), "Here's to My Mother" (Kurupt), "Healer Season" (Cam'ron), or "The Meadow's Tryin' to Heal Me" (Master P). Obviously these albums do not exist. The point I intended to make with these bogus titles was that rap is typically a hostile environment. But in time I realized that not only are "It's Dark and Hell Is Hot" or "Music to Driveby" old references the contemporary rap audience might not be too familiar with, contemporary rap itself has cleared up. I'm talking big picture here. Even during its most quarrelsome phase rap had a warm and welcoming side, and vice versa there are plenty of artists out today who enjoy disturbing the peace. Personally I never bought into the 'rap is always so negative' stereotype, since a lot of that perceived negativity to me was actually constructive criticism, informative and inspirational, ultimately born out of an affirmative attitude. In the sense that - regardless of how exactly you go about it - bringing up things that are wrong is actually the right thing to do. Be that as it may, I'm the first to admit that the general tone of rap music these days is less malicious than it used to be. When I heard that Homeboy Sandman was releasing an album called "First of a Living Breed" it felt like he was proving my point. The title "Last of a Dying Breed" was fitting for Scarface in 2000, but it would be completely cliché for virtually anybody in 2012."
JJ DOOM :: Key to the Kuffs :: Lex Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Daniel Dumile has gone through many different chapters and permutations in his 23-year career. He first appeared on 3rd Bass's 1989 song "The Gas Face" as Zev Love X. He went on to record two records with his brother Sub Roc as KMD. After his brother died in a car accident and his label dropped him, Dumile took a few years off to recover and plot his next move. He re-emerged as the masked rapper MF DOOM, and had a highly prolific creative streak from 1999 to 2005. He released albums as MF DOOM, King Geedorah, and Viktor Vaughn, and a series of instrumental albums as Metal Fingers. Despite being an accomplished producer, he's made some of his best work with someone else at the boards. His 2004 collaboration with producer Madlib as Madvillain is arguably his best album, and his 2005 collaboration with producer Danger Mouse as Dangerdoom is another high point in his discography. DOOM has threatened a follow up to "Madvillainy" since 2005, as well as a project with Ghostface Killah. However, both of these albums have fallen victim to DOOM's sporadic productivity in the last seven years. He's only managed to release one proper album of new material in seven years, 2009's "Born Like This." The rest of his recent discography has been padded out by compilations of his guest verses, albums with other rappers recycling his "Special Herbs" beats, and two live albums. The latter is especially ironic given how sketchy DOOM's live performances have become. Like a hip-hop Axl Rose, DOOM tends to go on late and play for a half hour, and that's if the crowd is lucky enough for it to be DOOM behind the mask and not an impostor lip-synching. While the Madvillain sequel promised by the end of 2012 is nowhere in sight and the Ghostface album is also M.I.A., DOOM did manage to release a collaboration with Jnerio Jarel this year as JJ DOOM. The question DOOM fans are asking themselves is if "Keys to the Kuffs" is a collabo on the level of Madvillain or Danger Doom, or if DOOM is still lost in the woods."
J the Exodus :: From Darkness Came Light :: Less Is More Music
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"London based rapper J the Exodus, or as he often prefers to be called simply "J the Ex," sent us his latest EP "From Darkness Came Light" for a review. The package itself was fairly barebones - just a shrinkwrapped CD in an unpadded envelope - no one sheet or bio. Given the cost of international postage I'm a little more forgiving than when a domestic rapper does the same thing, and J seems like a fairly technologically hip emcee anyway - it's easy enough to find a bio on his personal website anyway. He's been on the rise for a while now, having performed at the Queen's Golden Jubilee all the way back in 2002. His first solo mixtape though was just two years ago, meaning he's finally decided to strike out on his own and step into the spotlight. While Exodus has the vocal tenor and accent typical to so many emcees who hail from the UK, his might be one of the mildest I've ever experienced, as but for a vowel sound here and there you could almost mistake him for a New York emcee (such as saying "kahn" instead of "can"). Though I'm often the one to advocate you shouldn't avoid a rapper outside North America who has a strong regional dialect, in this case I don't even need to advocate. Ex is a thoughtful and passionate emcee, and his message comes through loud and clear on songs like "Guiding Star" featuring Indigo & Tara Brown. For those who don't know, the etymology of the word "thug" is actually traced to British India in the 19th century, so J's usage here is not just lyrical but also educational in context. (A discussion of the true nature of the Thuggee criminal gangs would take far too long to do here - but the novel "Confessions of a Thug" would be a good place to start.) Production on the song is ably provided by Kwasi O, and although J uses a variety of different producers for his backdrops, that same level of quality remains consistent."
Poe Pro :: Whatever (Whatever You Want it to Be) :: Buck50 Entertainment
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"After we reviewed Liotta's album last month we heard from his homeboy Poe Pro, who was a featured guest on more than a few tracks on "The Prequel." Pro's full name is actually Poetic Prophetic and has been covered here before - Poe Pro is just the convenient shorthand he and his comrades choose to use. He explains all of this on the second track of his album "Whatever (Whatever You Want it to Be)," but in terms of explaining who he is as an artist the title track and album opener is more on point. So Poe Pro is the latest in a long line of hip-hop artists who think today's rap music is unsatisfying, but he freely admits "this album's for me" in the chorus. Actually he says "it's a hit, it's a piece of shit, it's whatever you want to make of it." Before the end of this review, you'll know which one we think it is, but the open-ended conclusions of the chorus are different from the typical brag rap, which already gets Poe Pro a point on the scale. His plain spoken delivery has a charm as well - he says he went from feeling like he should save rap to feeling like he should "just want to drink beer and watch baseball." There are a lot of frustrated fans and artists alike who can relate, especially when he says "It got so shitty, that I just don't give a fuck any more." Of course that's not true, because nobody who doesn't give a fuck any more would record an 18 song album, let alone send it out for review. He also has something most underground rappers don't have - a Canibus appearance on "Golden Ages," though I can't shake the feeling this was a Canibus posse song where the original guests got deleted while Pro and his friends take their place. I'm sure that's unfair and he got paid for these bars, but his flow seems out of place amongst this line-up, particularly Pro's laid back delivery compared to 'Bis' intensity."
Roc Marciano :: Reloaded :: Decon Records
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"I recently watched a documentary about the "Teflon Don" John Gotti and it reminded me of a time when hip hop was introduced to the sub-genre Mafioso rap. Nearly twenty years ago the world welcomed the almighty Wu-Tang Clan and more specifically a rapper that helped pioneer this sub-genre, Raekwon the Chef. Although many cite Kool G Rap as the godfather of mafioso, it was Raekwon's magnum opus "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx" that demonstrated how the life of a street mobster could be portrayed in an immersive manner that allowed the listener to escape to the audio equivalent of a classic Scorsese film. Many rappers built their careers on the Mafioso premise, namely Mobb Deep, CNN and Jay-Z. Nas even reinvented himself as Escobar to dabble in the sub-genre himself. Starting off 2013, hip hop has almost experienced a renaissance of Mafioso rap, whether it be the brash Action Bronson, veterans collaborating for "Wu-Block" or an underground favourite like Blacastan, there's certainly an argument to be had that things do indeed, go in cycles. One record that highlighted Mafioso rap was far from dead was 2010's "Marcberg" by Roc Marciano, an album by a forgotten Flipmode Squad member that sounded like it was recorded in 1994. The beats oozed with atmosphere yet remained minimalist in their approach so that Marciano's rhymes could weave vivid images that were almost poetic in their thick NYC slang. "Marcberg" wasn't the most accessible album you'd ever hear, and for better or worse, "Reloaded" is even less accessible. Simply put "Marcberg" had better tracks but "Reloaded" is the better album. There are less beats to bang your head to here, but treat this album more as the backdrop to a gangster flick and you won't find a better listening experience as far as lyricism goes."
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