If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Curly Castro's "Fidel" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Curly Castro :: Fidel
Man Bites Dog Records
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Curly Castro describes himself in superhero terms as your "friendly neighborhood rebel" of hip-hop. He's Brooklyn born and raised but has called the streets of Philadelphia home since the late 1990's. His album "Fidel" is being released through the rising imprint Man Bites Dog Records, home of everybody from Double A.B. & Dub Sonata to Vast Aire and MHz (Megahertz) among others. If you called them 2010's answer to what Rawkus Records was in the 1990's, you wouldn't be insulting any of the artists on the imprint, though hopefully MBD doesn't wind up relegated to a dead MySpace page the way Rawkus' did.I think they've learned from Rawkus' mistakes though. The underground hip-hop records they release are just as compelling, sans the unreasonable expectations and contradictory "independent as fuck (with major distributors)" rhetoric. Castro himself revels in his contradictions - considering himself "part Red Foxx, part Che Guevara" in his lyrical approach and willing to name both Boot Camp Clik and Johnny Cash as artistic influences. Can anybody hold so many disparate elements together in a compelling whole without the whole thing coming apart at the seams? I'd argue that Curly Castro does so successfully on "Fidel," an aptly named album given the communist dictator is himself a study in contradiction - decrying capitalistic economies like the U.S. yet an avid fan of the sport of baseball which was born and flourished Stateside. His political side is found in songs like "The Spook Who Sat" and "Colored Water Fountain," songs not easily forgotten. It's hard not to laugh at his tales of George W. Bush being "a tad bit unstable," but the funy song takes a wicked turn when he informs all his guests that they were poisoned by "the flambe pulled pork" with a sardonic "enjoy!" Therein lies Castro's road to success in hip-hop - his ability to mix political commentary and comedy like a Molotov cocktail and bomb unsuspecting listeners."
Apaulo Treed & Knightstalker :: The Last Line of Defence :: Bandcamp.com
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"The Last Line of Defence" is a transatlantic project brought to us by America's Apaulo Treed and Germany's Knightstalker. Knightstalker, born and bred in Berlin, has been making steady moves in the last four, five years with song collaborations aplenty, one with Apaulo Treed dating from 2010. "Platoon Leaders" inspired them to tackle a full-length, 10 tracks of grimly dedicated hip-hop that put both rappers forward for features on upcoming Snowgoons releases. They already have considerable underground support, their album boasting production from Harry Fraud and J-Love and appearances from C-Rayz Walz, Maffew Ragazino, Solomon Childs and Meyhem Lauren. Like other rap duos before them, Apaulo Treed & Knightstalker complement each other, just maybe not in an entirely flattering way. Treed has the gritty voice and stable flow, Stalker the thoughtful rhymes. Conversely, they fail where their partner excels at. The disparity is apparent from the very first track when they trade bars at short intervals and the American meets the German's elaborate rhyming ("Can't argue that our shit's just local / just the mix of our vocals makes our business global") with the most plain lines. On the level of lyrical skills, "The Last Line of Defence" plays like a 'Pinky and the Brain' episode as Knight's "Apaulo, are you pondering what I'm pondering?" is inevitably answered with some non-sequitur nonsense. I'd take that low blow back if there wasn't another connection to Warner's unlikely couple of lab mice - Apaulo Treed & Knightstalker are on a mission to take over the world, particularly the latter, as he's adamant to align them with other famous rap tag teams, envisioning them as the "next Royce 'n Em," or as making "them dollars like Erick and Parrish / till we dwell in a palace with a terrace that's lavish." Cuts like "Only One Way," "Last Line of Defence," "No One," "Blow Up" and "Platoon Leaders" are all driven by the duo's desire to emerge as notable figures."
Ayatollah :: Avant Garde :: Elementality Productions
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Long gone are the days of collecting 12" singles in order to obtain instrumental versions of songs. With Soundclick, Youtube and a whole host of producers releasing their back catalogue in instrumental form it's always baffled me why a producer would release new music without an MC holding things together. I'm not talking DJ Krush-style melodic adventures here, but traditional hip hop beats that loop every 4 bars. As a listening experience, there's little longevity, but with the availability (and ease of use) of audio manipulation software (previously referred to as two turntables and a mixer) the possibilities are endless. Only the elite can get away with whole instrumental albums, such is the exposed nature of a producer's creation. When flicking through the tracklisting I had to double-take when reading "3 In The Chamber". Could this be the same track released on DJ KO's "Picture This" compilation which brought together Torae, O.C. and Kaze over what has to be My Personal Favourite Hip Hop Production Ever. That's probably exaggerating, and although I'm not overly familiar with Ayatollah's work other than the occasional production on albums such as Wordsworth's "Mirror Music" and Cormega's "Born & Raised", his style of production is right up my street. Beats chopped to perfection, whether they thump or plod. "Devotion" kicks off proceedings, dominated by a female vocalist who repeats her ramblings for forty five seconds before a drum loop eases the tedium. It's a disappointing start that feels like even a Dipset rapper would have improved proceedings. "Nothing But The Funk" possesses a harder style, something a Torae or Reks would sound excellent over. The "I love you" sample marries the soft and hard aspects of hip hop perfectly with the claps and snares, and demonstrates how an MC can utilise a romantic beat without sounding soppy. Being in instrumental form, Ayatollah has allowed the listener the option of applying an LL Cool J acapella to his beats, or even marrying rappers of today with the throwback sounds of yesteryear."
Cold 187um :: The Only Solution :: Psychopathic Records
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"To be perfectly honest, I didn't think there was much potential left in the artist known as Cold 187um or Big Hutch when I came across his "From Pomona With Love" mixtape last year. As far as running into an old acquaintance and sharing memories over a couple of cold beers, it was a completely satisfactory experience. But Hutch getting things done career-wise in this day and age? I didn't think so. Less than a year later he's officially back in the game with a concept album on an indie label that has 20 years of experience. Home to Insane Clown Posse and a number of affiliates, Psychopathic Records is expanding its roster beyond its core clientele, also in an attempt to explore the capacity of artists the music industry has long lost interest in. Without a doubt Cold 187um is a man of many talents, a pioneer of gangsta rap both as a producer and rapper. But can he handle an ambitious project without a particularly solid solo track record? For starters he is alleviated of the responsibility to create a soundtrack. "The Only Solution" is scored with beats from the Psychopathic vaults. The storyline was developed between him and Insane Clown Posse's Violent J, while the lyrics are all credited to Hutch. Establishing the rapper as the Psychopathic Assassin, the album tells the story of a contract killer on a mission to avenge the murder of his father who was killed by his uncle over money. By the end of the album we've witnessed several murders, while the killer's personal vendetta remains unsolved. Each song relates an episode in a journey that takes him across the country as he fulfills his obligations towards his employer (simply referred to as the Company). His hits take place in different environments - the church, the mob, and even politics. These are sufficient ingredients for an entertaining plot, and to a certain degree things fall in line nicely. Events unfold conclusively, settings are described, motives explained."
Craig G :: Now, That's More Like It :: Atlantic Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"Let me preface this by saying that I've been tinkering with this review for several years now. It's not just that I've always found it extremely difficult to make my mind up about its object, I'm also irritated by the prospect of critiquing a piece of music someone half my current age made over twenty years ago. I furthermore feel burdened by the precedent I set myself with my review of this album's predecessor, a crude and rude rebuke of a young artist's first work. And yet it's that same review that drives me to cover a sophomore effort that ostensibly tried to make ammends for an undeniably wack debut. There's also the fact that the artist, who is my age, is still putting out product and has a standing that deserves complete coverage. Finally, both albums have lingered in obscurity since they first came out, which is always an incentive for Matt Jost to go 'Back to the Lab' at RapReviews. With that in mind, let's get to it. Craig G's major label debut was also a major disappointment. The "Symphony" alumni was blessed with the opportunity to work with producer Marley Marl in his prime. But the opportunity was squandered something awful. An audio engineering nightmare, "The Kingpin" caught the longtime collaborators on a particularly bad day. Two years later the self-proclaimed "dopest duo coming out of Queensbridge" tried to make up for it by recording another album for Atlantic, the promisingly titled "Now, That's More Like It." The album was indeed more like it, even as there are valid reasons that it fell on deaf ears. Compared to Marl's late '80s work the record lacks oomph, particularly in the bass department (usually his strong suit). The audio polish that is applied results in bluntness instead of sharpness. For instance, the only Craig G track that rivals "Droppin' Science," "Take the Bait," a monster jam with its acrobatic Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band groove and assorted horns, yelps and cuts, originally appearing as a b-side to the previous album's "Shootin' the Gift" single, is not only shortened in the album version, it suddenly feels sluggish, turning one of the freshest joints of 1989 (and that's saying something) into a still strong but simply less stellar track."
Disco and Spence :: Heatwave :: Pgasuz Basement
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Disco and Spence represent just how global hip-hop has become. They are from Austin, Texas, but have spent time in Berlin, Germany. It was there that they met up with DJ Boogie Dan, the host of this EP. Their style pays homage to Southern rap (and not just in the jokey Pen and Pixel cover art), but also contains elements of dance music. Given Berlin's place in the dance music scene, it stands to reason that DJ Boogie Dan may have helped Disco and Spence go in a more dance-oriented direction. From what I can tell, Spence handles the production and adds some verses while Disco takes on the lion share of rhymes. The album opens with an instrumental intro, which may not have been totally necessary given that it is an eight-song EP. It then goes into "She Wants to Dance," a forgettable song about a girl who wants to dance. The 80s beat is ok, but the rhyming is flat and the hook sounds like it was done by the Flight of the Conchords. "Zip-Loc" is a much better effort. The beat hits hard with rumbling bass, heavy 808s, and snare snaps. Disco and Spence's rapping isn't stellar, but the banging beat compensates for any flatness in their delivery. The "Rack City" freestyle "Half Full" is another solid effort, with the beat once again making up for the shortcomings of the rhymes. "Separation Anxiety" is the most personal track on the album. Over the "Donald Trump" beat, Disco spits some love raps, telling his lady "you got me like a seizure." The album closes with "Ride Slow," which is undone by clunky rhymes and cheesy synthesized horns."
DJ Akilles & Professor P :: The Realism :: Pro and Ak Handelsbolag
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Like most Brits, I can't speak another language let alone rap in one, so I have the utmost respect for anybody that performs in a language that isn't their native tongue. I've always found listening to international hip hop to be an intriguing experience, having attended Hip Hop Kemp twice (the international hip hop festival held annually in the Czech Republic). I know that Europe is the breeding ground for debatably the best hip hop producers in the world and some of the most hardcore fans you'll ever see. Fans that listen to the classic hip hop sound and live by it daily. DJ Akilles, like Snowgoons and The Returners, I suspect is a name that will be associated with more MCs after the release of "The Realism" as he has crafted an album of brilliance. And even better, Professor P rhymes in English so you have no excuse to ignore this Swedish release. The production on display on "The Realism" is what fans wish a Nas or Jay-Z would rock to, what Masta Ace rapped about on his hit "Nostalgia", what the hip hop industry often discards as old school. I'd never heard of Professor P or DJ Akilles before this release, but the joys of Spotify (and yes I pay subscription!) have enabled me to discover so many great records; one being Professor P's "Maintain EP" from 2010. It was a very strong piece of throwback boom bap, but "The Realism" takes things to another level. EVERY track is flames. I know it is rare, especially nowadays, but there isn't one weak beat on this release. There's a distinct DJ Premier influence, as there is on most boom bap releases, but there is equal measures Kev Brown and Alchemist. "Mind Travel" is an immense production with a rugged Bumpy Knuckles scratched in at the start, and demonstrates Professor P ability to tear shit up."
Frank N Dank :: 48 Hours :: Yancey Media Group/Delicious Vinyl
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"J Dilla month continues here at RapReviews.com with a long-overdue album from Frank N Dank. That's not to say the album was never released though, because a bootleg version escaped from the MCA Records coffers in 2003, a fact that is referenced in this 2004 review. Nevertheless the lack of official explanation for MCA's failure to put out a J Dilla produced project led to the kind of rampant speculation the internet specializes in. Prevalent theories included the following:
1.) J Dilla used too many samples and MCA wouldn't pay the clearance.
2.) Frank N Dank didn't come up with any pop radio-friendly rap songs.
3.) Dilla himself was unhappy with the project and asked MCA to shelve it.
Frank Bush a/k/a Frank Nitt (originally Frank Nitty) insists that all of these theories are dead wrong. In a press release accompanying the release of "48 Hours" he deads the rumors in a very matter of fact statement: "This is the exact version of 48 Hours that we (Frank N Dank & Dilla) turned in to MCA and the way Dilla intended it to be!" So why didn't it come out? According to Frank it was simply a matter of turnover at MCA, with the same A&R people who greenlit the project no longer around to push it along when the album was done. That's certainly plausible and has definitely happened to rappers in the past, though Q-Tip's famous Industry Rule #4,080 still makes any excuse feel suspect even if it turns out to be totally legitimate. I fully expect people to believe the conspiracy theories about "48 Hours" being in limbo for a decade even after this review and don't blame them if they do. The upshot of the whole thing is that this album's significance looms larger after Dilla's passing than it ever would have while he was alive. It's even fair to say that Frank-N-Dank would have remained relatively unknown outside Detroit were it not for Dilla's friendship and frequent collaborations in the 1990's and early 2000's. To that end Dilla's presence in their lives is spotlighted in an accompanying instrumental disc if you cop the physical, which unfortunately I don't have since I got the digital from their publicist. This means I also lack liner notes to confirm all of the tracks ARE by Jay Dee, but I'm going to take Frank Nitt's statements to the effect that it was at face value. It was only the "Xtended Play" follow-up that disappointed fans, having only 3 Dilla tracks in total."
Lone Ninja :: Rogue Agent :: Holographic Pagoda Recordings
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Quoting a Sean Price lyric is always a fun way to start a review, and hearing an emcee brag about their criminal misdemeanours ON RECORD always struck me as stupid rather than "cool". Especially if the emcee is deadly serious throughout an album, and whilst Lone Ninja is not a gangsta rapper, there are certain characters in hip hop that beg the question should this character be rapping? The Sean Price line also relates to the character Lone Ninja purveys. His album cover resembles the latest Tom Clancy video game, with Ninja adorned in stealth fatigues and night vision goggles (in daylight for some reason). And just as Lone Ninja is probably now blind, I've been blind to Lone Ninja's work. Considering I like to keep up with my underground hip hop, Lone Ninja has sneakily crept under my radar, and looking at the producers and guest features, only Cyrus Malachi resonates with me. That's only because he is one of my favourite British rappers, a real powerful presence on the mic with a large vocabulary. But what of Lone Ninja, an emcee entrenched in mystery and as my colleague Flash said in his review of "Fatal Peril"; seriousitosis. Unfortunately, the seriousitosis seems to be ever present throughout "Rogue Agent". Apak on "Onslaught" and the aforementioned Cyrus Malachi on "Battle Dress Uniform" breathe short bursts of life into the constant theme of death but other guests sound decidedly amateur in comparison. "Super Soldier" features a suitably chaotic string-laced backdrop from Lord Gamma, but offers little lyrically other than monotonous threats. "Defiant Threats" is the finest example of stealth-rap with a beat laced with tension and decent story-telling from Ninja. The only issue I have is the frequent switching between reality and the realms of fantasy as what starts as an interesting story quickly morphs into Saturday morning cartoon fodder."
Phace :: Phlozart :: PhaceOfficial.com
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Back in the day, New York City and its environs was the epicenter of hip-hop, both culturally and commercially. East Coast rappers determined what rap music should sound like, and set the gold standard that rappers from other regions had to try to match. By the early 21st century, however, things done changed. East Coast rappers, once used to setting the pace, now find themselves having to catch up to the styles of rappers from other area codes. So-called "real hip-hop" seems to carry less and less weight each year. Listeners are more interested in rappers who have style and attidude rather than lyrical skills. Hardcore hip-hop doesn't sell a million downloads. No one wants a ringtone of battle rap. While New York rappers like A$AP Rocky are making hip-hop that is less rooted in classic East Coast rap, artists like Phace are still holding the flame for the kind of hard beats and tough rhymes that have been a staple of NYC and New Jersey for decades. The Brick City native has just re-released his album "Phlozart" for free, providing the listener with sixteen tracks of grimey rap like they used to make back in the day. Phace has a nasally flow similar to Ghostface Killah or Action Bronson, but his style is more straight-forward: he raps about how he will demolish any other rappers in no uncertain terms. What makes him more notable than your average tough-guy rapper is that he has the mic skills to back up his threats. Braggadoccio rap can get old quick in the hands of a lesser MC, but Phace keeps things clever and interesting, He provides some impressive verbal gymnastics at the same time he is giving his rivals a lyrical beatdown. He also mixes things up, getting romantic on "Soldier Girl," and opening up on "For the Record." These songs show that there is more to his persona than being a badass, which makes him and the album more likable as a result."
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