Friday June 22, 2018

The (W)rap Up - Week of April 2, 2013 (@MannyWallace)
Posted by Emanuel Wallace at Tuesday, April 9th, 2013 at 10:00AM :: Email this article :: Print this article

If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Sankofa's "Just Might Be" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!

Courtesy @MannyWallace

[Just Might Be] Sankofa :: Just Might Be
Obese America

Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon

"Is this the last album from Fort Wayne, Indiana rap pioneer Sankofa? In his own words it "Just Might Be." I've spoken to him a bit leading up to the release and expressed my regret that he's decided to hang up the mic, but I also respect his personal and professional reasons for entering self-imposed exile. Critical acclaim has followed most of his releases, but as most of us are aware, critical acclaim doesn't pay the rent or buy you groceries. It's overly simplistic to blame the abundance of free albums on DatPiff and Bandcamp for squeezing out the intelligent and artistic artists trying to make a buck, particularly when I know a few who make their living OFF sites like Bandcamp. Then again with so many meaningless and mindless free albums out there, an intelligent rapper like Sankofa can get drowned out amongst the noise, and commercially successful but artistically vapid rappers only make the signal to noise ratio worse. Ultimately one can respect Sankofa's choice to make an artistic statement with "Just Might Be" and walk away with his head held high, rather than becoming another one of those bitter backpack rappers who cries about how dope he is while nobody out there pays attention. And if you're new to Sankofa at this point, being one of the readers who never previously experienced his iconoclastic rap stylings, "21 Choices" is the kind of reassurance you need that he's different from all the same old same out there and worth the investment of time and money. Both the song and the video are an ode to pedaling on your own two feet, and I do mean that literally."

Bambu :: The Lean Sessions EP :: Beatrock Music 
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[The Lean Sessions EP]"Bambu is one of those dope West coasters who seems to float around from one interesting project to the next, never seeming to land anywhere specific other than theBeatrock imprint. That keeps you hanging on from one album to the next, but it's also a little vexing given it's so hard to have any expectations as to what to expect.Following Beatrock on Twitter or reading our own newsfeed means every now and then I'm caught off guard. "Oh shit! Bambu's done it again." Such is the case here. "The Lean Sessions EP" is an extension of Bambu's friendship with producer Karman, a high schooler (!) whose talents impressed B enough to have him produce a track on his "... one rifle per family" album. That experience led him to work with him again on this free EP, which serves as a showcase for what both the veteran emcee and the up-and-coming producer can do. It's not an incredibly long release, clocking in at just under 11 minutes long, but that just makes it harder to front on songs that come at you rapid fire like "Coffee in My Left." Bambu describes Karman as "experimental" and that fits like a glove here. He purposefully fades his own instrumental and gives Bambu's vocals an echo midway through the song, as though he was walking away from the studio while still rapping. He interrupts his own beats even when they are loud and clear though - purposefully reversing and stuttering notes yet keeping the tempo. At times following the bumblebee flight can distract you from Bambu's vocals, but he holds it down like a pro. The warbling beat of "Incredible Cred" seems like it's on the verge of falling apart at any second, but the vocals of Bambu hold the presentation together while he complains that his "faith in rap is getting slim" due to "moguls out here takin every penny that they can" from unsuspecting "underground, barely making rent" emcees. And yet it's because of a "Vet" like Bambu that people who lose hope in rap can find it again, though he's not talking about his own career longevity here. This song is a literal ode to the war veterans who come home from overseas - and those who don't."

Cocoa Brovaz :: The Rude Awakening :: Duck Down/Priority 
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Pete T.

[The Rude Awakening]"You know the epilogue by James Todd. Riding high on the fumes of their acclaimed 1995 debut "Dah Shinin'," Brooklyn duo and Boot Camp Clik representatives (rather than Representativz) Smif-N-Wessun were slapped with a cease and desist from a certain Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation of Springfield, Massachusetts, forcing Tek and Steele to assume a new moniker before constructing their sophomore effort. Reemerging as Cocoa Brovaz in 1998, "The Rude Awakening" is a meritorious return to Bucktown, although their stage name isn't the only alteration to the formula. The murky atmosphere and ragga inflections remain, but Tek and Steele are here flanked by an ensemble of producers spanning beyond the friendly faces of Da Beatminerz. For the opener "Off the Wall," Shawn J. Period contributes a mid-tempo groove ripe with heavy bass and trumpet as Cocoa B'z discuss their predicament between guest spots from Professor X and Jahdan Blakkamore. The duo pledges resilience over a relaxed Steele and Face N Triple Beam production "Still Standin' Strong" but channel some energy for "Won on Won," a single which originally appeared on the "Soul in the Hole" soundtrack in 1997. If "The Rude Awaking" doesn't boast the same smoked-out exuberance of "Dah Shinin'," it reciprocates as a meditative and dare I say mature effort. After a full round of group efforts, compilations, and countless guest appearances, the B.C.C. shtick was quite familiar by '98, and Cocoa B'z opt to forgo the toasts and "cessions" of the debut in favor of honest reflection over appropriately somber beats. Their capacity for the contemplative was suggested on "Dah Shinin'"'s final act ("P.N.C.," anyone?) and it's a successful tactic on "Blown Away" and "The Cash." The stellar "Game of Life," an eerie exercise in street consciousness, features strong production from Steele and Suite, while "Back 2 Life" convincingly addresses the homies in the pen a la "One Love.""

The Lions :: This Generation :: Stones Throw Records 
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

[This Generation]"An attentive reader will notice that I complain about the production at some point in any review I do for a contemporary reggae album. Simply put, somewhere in the 80s reggae lost its warm, dank riddims in exchange for crisper digital sounds. Much like R&B, analog recording was replaced with digital recording and live musicians were supplemented or replaced by machines. While you can't argue that a 2013 reggae or R&B song doesn't sound crisper and more polished than a 1970s reggae or R&B song, it often feels like some of the soul was left behind in the process. Maybe I'm just a luddite who can't get with the new sounds, but I have always preferred the production from the 70s to the production of the past thirty years. I'm not the only one. In 2007, a group of musicians from L.A. came together to form the Lions, with the idea of making reggae like they used to back in the day.  Producer/guitarist Dave Ubick worked with Breakstra and Macy Gray, singers Deston Berry and Alex Desert were part of ska-revival band the Hepcats, and vocalist Black Shakespeare is the cousin of reggae legend Robbie Shakespeare. Add to that some fifteen or sixteen session musicians who have worked with everyone from Raphael Saadiq, Big Daddy Kane, the Black Eyed Peas and Alton Ellis and you have a formidable musical force. Much like the Dap-Kings, the Lions make contemporary music using a retro template. Where the Dap-Kings are re-imagining Motown soul for the post-millenium, the Lions are revisiting 70s roots reggae. "We basically made the dusty reggae soul LP we have been wanting to hear for years," they exclaim in their press release. "You can't roll a spliff on an MP3" Malick Moore sings on lead single "This Generation." "The Top is heavy and the bottom's ground." Moore's falsetto is complemented by Black Shakespeare's gruff toasting. The real stars here though, are the musicians. They capture the warm analogue sound that all the modern recording tricks in the world can't beat."

Screwball :: Loyalty :: Hydra Entertainment/LandSpeed 
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Matt Jost

[Loyalty]"As much as I've come to rely on its services, I often shake my head at the music database for its arbitrary, narrow-minded or just plain wrong categorization of hip-hop records into various 'styles.' I especially take exception to the tag 'thug rap' that some contributors apply to every release with vaguely violent content. And it's not helping matters when an album receives simultaneously the 'thug rap' and the 'conscious' mark (BDP's "Criminal Minded"). According to, artists as diverse as House of Pain, Ludacris, Nas, Warren G, A$AP Rocky, Gravediggaz and Onyx are/were all thug rap practitioners...That's not to say that the term is not warranted in any case. In fact it is a completely legit label for a certain period and certain artists. The 'thug' era in rap lasted approximately from 1994-2004, properly introduced by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's debut EP and 2Pac's Thug Life project and getting shown the door by Kanye West's "The College Dropout." While there may have been 'original thugs' such as Eazy-E or even Schoolly D, the 'thug' character in rap is closely associated with Tupac Shakur, who embodied the idea so ardently that his violent death can be seen as a consequence of art and life getting dangerously close.Shakur created a mold that was adopted by rappers across North America. Both rising stars such as DMX, B.G., Trick Daddy or Ja Rule and established artists like Yukmouth, Spice 1, Tragedy Khadafi or Fat Joe fashioned themselves to some degree as thugs. A thug in rap terminology is typically a lone wolf who lives by his own rules and in opposition to society. While he is defiant, brash and flashy, there's also a philosophical, often existential side to his expressions. Thug rap also champions a few traditional social values, although they tend to apply only to a close circle of individuals. Loyalty is one of these values, which a thug hopes is respected by family, friends and fellow thugs."

Sean E Depp :: Dude Rap EP :: The Understudies Crew 
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Dude Rap EP]"This is my first time coming across either Sean E Depp (a name clearly meant to sound like Johnny Depp) and his Understudies Crew. While a lot of what I write about for this site is sent to my by eager rappers or their even MORE eager publicists, Depp was a completely accidental Google search discovery. The allusion to the famous actor intrigued me, and this free EP required a very minimal investment of time - a few seconds to download and only 8 minutes to listen to. I could hardly pass it up! A little poking around helped me find out Depp is a California emcee by way of Berkeley, as seen in the "Discoteque" video. "Dude Rap" is suitable not only as a title for this short release, but as a description of Sean E as an artist. He's the polar opposite of a hardheaded West coast G, and although he's among the new crop of young artists emerging from the Cali scene he's nothing like the Wolf Gang either. He's not weird, shocking, or controversial. Depp's concerns are very laid back - he'd like to be the dude who simply abides - dealing with his daily concerns as best he can."

Shlohmo :: Laid Out :: Friends of Friends 
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

[Laid Out]"Henry Laufer, aka Shlohmo, has been making beats since he hit puberty and seriously making music since he was barely voting age. His style has evolved in the three years since his 2001 debut "Shlomoshun Deluxe." That album was glitchy electronica. 2011's "Bad Vibes" took a downtempo turn, which made it a pleasant album but one that was hard to get excited about. His 2012 EP "Vacation" saw him exploring R&B, and he delves even further into that territory on "Laid Out." The EP starts off with "Don't Say No," featuring blue-eyed soul from How To Dress Well's Tom Krell. Shlohmo provides a ticking beat and off-kilter synth washes as a backdrop to Krell's crooning. It gets dangerously close to chillwave before Shlohmo takes things in a noisier direction around the 1:35 mark. The dissonant notes keep the song interesting, as they often do in Shlohmo's work. On the surface, many of his songs can feel deceptively simple and mellow, but he adds in just enough unusual elements to make something more than just background music. "Out of Hand" could be a Burial b-side, complete with filtered female vocals. "Later" uses a squealing synth like an electric guitar, combined with trap snares. It is something that is one part street rap and one part indie electro pop. The trap snares are back for "Put It," a re-imagining of G-funk. Trap music is the latest African-American art form to be appropriated by white people, and Shlohmo's exploration of the sound shows how this can be a good thing. He's not trying to be gangsta, but rather using elements of gangsta rap production in a new way."

Trends of Culture :: Trendz... :: Mad Sounds/Motown Records 
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Trendz...]"There were rumors of a Trends of Culture comeback around December 2008. That sparked my curiosity - I hadn't heard from Nastee, M.O.L. or Grapevine since they dropped a couple of singles and the full-length album "Trendz..." back in the early 1990's. One of their most famous contribution or well remembered contribution to the hip-hop scene is the single "Off & On," which still holds up 20 years later as a fun freeform East coast flow. Production for most of their debut album is done in-house, with an able assist from Lord Finesse on this track and a bonus remix. I made the decision to wait for T.O.C. to make their big comeback, holding on to my copy of "Trendz..." until such time as I could run both reviews simultaneously. Time passed and I never heard another word about the brothers from Harlem releasing their long overdue sophomore LP. Trends of Culture has a MySpace page with a couple of snippets and one of their old classics "Valley of the Skinz," but nobody has logged in since 2010 and so far as I can tell that new album never happened. If anybody from the crew reading this can give me a heads up on it freel free to give us a shout. After waiting almost five years I don't think there's any reason to sit on "Trendz..." any longer. If you take the album on in sequential order "Fuck What Ya Heard" is a fairly run-of-the-mill East coast track for the era - not memorable but not terrible. Guest rapper Indego is notable simply for being even more obscure than the Trends themselves - I'm convinced this was his one and only appearance on ANY record."

Yaggfu Front :: Action Packed Adventure :: PolyGram Records 
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Action Packed Adventure]"You can spell the name with or without capitalization and punctuation, but it's a not-well-hidden secret that Yaggfu Front's first name is an acronym that forms the phrase "You Are Gonna Get Fucked Up (if you) Front." It would have been hard to do that in 1993 given these North Carolina rappers paved a path to dopeness with innovative self-produced singles like "Busted Loop." The title was no exaggeration - the sounds that open the song literally sounds like somebody fucked up and spilled their drink on the sampler during a studio session. After the machine was repaired, the only sound it could make was what the group describes as a "loop on the fritz, giving engineers the shits." Instead of throwing in the towel, they mixed it with bass and threw some fun rhymes on it instead! Spin 4th, DND (D'Ranged & Damaged, a/k/a Damage) and Jingle Bel's approach was immediately playful and refreshing compared to their contemporaries. To this day "Left Field" remains both a fat single off their debut album "Action Packed Adventure" AND a personal anthem. The outer spaced echoing sounds are ably laced with a smooth and subtle snare brush, some funky horns and a lightly lifting melody. Each verse features a member of the crew explaining how hard they failed at achieving their relationship goals in comical fashion. Jingle's girl is too clingy, Damage is so shy that his keeps hooking him up with her friends, and Spin plays himself completely through lack of confidence."

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