If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Us3's "The Third Way (Hand on the Torch Vol. II)" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's installment of the (W)rap Up!
Us3 :: The Third Way (Hand on the Torch Vol. II)
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
"It's our annual tradition at RapReviews to declare October "UK Month" and shine a spotlight on England's criminally slept on rap scene - well slept on in the States at least but not in Europe or the rest of the world. Of course it doesn't hurt that a couple of our writers are "across the pond" nor that I have more than a passing interest in BBC TV programs. A lot of people who were introduced to Us3 in the early 1990's though probably didn't realize it was a British export - the brainchild of London-based super producer Geoff Wilkinson. He wasn't the first and certainly not the last to successfully fuse jazz and rap, but "Hand on the Torch" had the inside track given the unfettered access Wilkinson was given to the vaults of Blue Note Records. A classic was born, and thanks to the rap lyrics of Rahsaan Kelly on their crossover hit single "Cantaloop," it sounded thoroughly American. Wilkinson has had a lot of collaborators on a lot of different versions of Us3 in the years since, making him the only integral and defining aspect of the group. It would even be fair to say that Us3 is Wilkinson's alter ego. He's brought back some old friends from the 1990's for "The Third Way" though, which isn't surprising given the album's subtitle is "Hand on the Torch Vol. II." Kelly is nowhere to be found though, and in fact the one reference to the name in recent years is of a deranged man from Brooklyn accosting bus passengers with a screwdriver. I want to think the name is a coincidence, but I really can't say either way. Instead the return collaborators here are the equally American sounding KCB, and the distinctively London-via-Jamaican stylings of Tukka Yoot. You can hear both on "Never Go Back." While the album may reference old times and old themes, we can happily report there's no "Cantaloop Part II." Wilkinson has also changed up his game from back in the day, preferring to interpolate and recreate the jazz greats instead of sampling them directly. For that reason you can hear everything from Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" to Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca" on the album, but the jazz flows as opposed to being constricted - artists working in tandem with the emcees and vice versa. The results are at times simply spectacular, as when rapper Akil Dasan spits free form verses over the uptempo and aptly named "Be Bop Thing." The late great Keith Elam would approve."
Blue Eyes :: Straight from the UK - EP :: Buback
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Jaroslav 'Czechone' Lavick
""Straight from the UK" is a 1994 EP release from one time Suspekt crew member Blue Eyes. He was one of many UK rappers that didn't seem to get their deserved props (nor did the crew he originated from), which is a shame as he was definitely charismatic, entertaining and rather skilled on the microphone. The title track opens the EP and it might as well be the anthem of golden era UK hip hop as it's one of the most pro UK hip hop tracks you're ever likely to hear; it really sums up the sentiments of many rappers in the UK scene at the time who were fed up with the bullshit coming from their peers. The themes are about creating genuine UK hip hop and supporting it, being true to who you are and where you are from, and eliminating the pretentiousness of acting American and being fake gangstas. Musically it's a wonderfully rugged track with heavy drums and some beautifully screechy horns which wail throughout the track. Overall it sits close to the harder edged, up-tempo Bomb Squad (i.e. Public Enemy producers) like "Britcore" sounds which dominated the UK scene during the late 80's/early 90's (although 1994 was very much at the tail end of that era), but there's also a significant dose of the classic D.I.T.C. sounds of Show and A.G., Diamond D and co. with the way the horns are used. DJ Prime Suspect (also from the Suspekt crew) produces all the tracks here aside from "Soul Tip", and is an actual DJ also and thus provides some nice turntable work on this song. A sample from UK legend Blade provides a most appropriate chorus. It's simply one of the great UK tracks of the era, musically and lyrically. The lyrics leave little doubt as to the stance of Blue Eyes; he's pissed off at the fakers – and rightly so. The issue of fake American accents was a big issue back in those days, both in UK and Australian hip hop, and it was something that certainly worked up those opposed to it, as evidenced by this track from Blue Eyes."
Juicy J :: Stay Trippy :: Taylor Made/Kemosabe/Columbia Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Juicy J, the Oscar-winning rapper and producer, was born thirty-eight years ago as Jordan Michael Houston. That makes he and I the same age. Judging from his latest solo album, "Stay Trippy," our lifestyles are drastically different. I'm happily married and fine with the fact that my wife will be my one and only romantic partner for the rest of my life. Juicy J is having threesomes with strippers. I don't do drugs and try to keep my alcohol consumption to a three drink maximum. Juicy J is smoking loud, getting drunk, and sipping syrup erry day. I'm in bed by ten and up by 6 every day, which means I go to bed when Juicy J is getting ready to go out, and get up when he's getting ready to go to bed. My main focus in life is to be a good father and good provider for my family. Juicy J is more focused on making paper, spending paper, getting fucked up and having sex with as many women as possible. Juicy J's hedonism and love of all things ratchet is not a lifestyle that I envy or would endorse, but it sure as hell makes for a fun album. Let's be straight:"Stay Trippy" is ignorant as hell. That doesn't mean it's stupid, though. Juicy J may be an expert at killing brain cells, but he's no dummy. His lyrical content may not win any literary awards, but he's a good rapper, and among the best doing this kind of music. Listening to the way Juicy J works with repetition in his songs makes you realize how well it can work when done right. On "Smoke A Nigga," for example, he's juxtaposing smoking as in getting high with smoking as in killing someone. It may not be Shakespeare, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that Juicy J had been the ghostwriter behind Rick Ross's recent winning streak. Most important, the man is the master of the one liner. He says a lot of offensive shit, but does in such a funny way that you can't help but be on board. The man deserves another Oscar just for lines like "Your baby mama ain't a ten/But when I'm drunk she's close enough," and "You say no to ratchet pussy, Juicy J can't." He's sort of the hip-hop version of Motley Crue or AC/DC, artists that make incredibly dumb, incredibly good music about sex and drugs. Except Juicy J doesn't have to limit himself to innuendo like "Sink the Pink." He can go all out and be as graphic and vulgar as he wants to be, and STILL have a platinum single."
Micall Parknsun :: Me, Myself & Akai :: YNR Productions
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"If you mention the name Micall Parknsun to your man on the street in England, they'll likely evoke memories of the former late-night chat show host who won't let you forget that he interviewed Muhammad Ali, and numerous other legendary figures such as Rod Hull. This is clearly why Micall has opted for the crazy spelling of his name that even a dyslexic would raise their eyebrows at, and it is a testament to his efforts that he remains a popular figure in UK hip hop. Driving home from work in Bristol, I saw posters for this album plastered on roundabouts. Attending a rap battle in London a few weeks back, who was there in the crowd but Micall Parknsun. I recall hitting up a Jehst gig in a small venue in Kent at least five years ago, and Micall Parknsun was there alongside Billy Brimstone himself, stepping out of his shadow to tear shit down. At the start of his career, perhaps Micall was best known for his affiliation with Jehst, but with two strong albums in "Working Class Dad" and "First Second Time Around" under his belt, "Me, Myself & Akai" firmly establishes him as one of the UK's heavyweight rappers. That introductory paragraph has probably alienated many readers that aren't from these rainy shores, but don't fret because Micall Parknsun is one of the easiest emcees to listen to. Much like his fellow grinder Genesis Elijah, Micall is a likeable personality who rarely puts on a mean posture or “cool' demeanour to aid his brand. The term “real hip hop' has been whored to the point that it doesn't have much meaning left, but "Me, Myself & Akai" is a real example of hip hop. More than anybody, the man possesses an aura to him that is so ordinary yet at the same time, highly admirable. If you already know about Micall, you'll be pleased to know that his tendency to use smooth, bassy production is present, with this album feeling like a modern Beatminerz record rather than the De La Soul classic the title may suggest."
Mickey Avalon :: I Get Even :: Rag Top Records
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Reading the promo for Mickey Avalon's latest EP "I Get Even" was traumatic enough, so I can only imagine what it must be like BEING Mickey Avalon. His father was a heroin addict who died in a drink-driving accident. Mickey was married, a father and moved away from his native California at a young age. He then became broke, divorced and funded his drug habit through prostitution. Then his sister died from a heroin overdose. You'd think that this level of loss and constant life-changing moments would drive even the Dalai Lama towards a pack of razorblades, yet here we find Mickey Avalon, at 37 years of age, outright reveling in his past. Regardless of the content and backstory, "I Get Even" is surprisingly enjoyable. Clocking in at five songs long, it's testament to Mickey's abilities that despite being a weak emcee, there is something for everybody to enjoy here. Assuming you don't mind a bit of filth that is. "I Get Even" is the first track, an undeniably catchy piece of pop-rap that boasts a radio-friendly hook, but it's clear that Mickey isn't winning awards for his rhymes any time soon. Although seeing as 2 Chainz won a Grammy, I believe Mickey has a chance at the Pulitzer. Given the promo copy of this record didn't feature production notes, I can't praise/punch the producer of "Pretty Woman" , as it throws some house music in to the mix and is seriously good strip club music. The thing that makes me want to punch the producer is that I SWEAR I've heard this exact rhythm before in another radio chart hit. Further thieving occurs on "Hollywood" , this time from Prodigy's "Keep It Thoro" . The fourth track, "Oh Baby" , demonstrates that when given a less invasive beat, Mickey struggles with his limited vocabulary and drowsy delivery to maintain prolonged interest. Still, the hook is catchy as ever. The one downer to this EP is "Rodeo" . Considering Mickey was genuinely a male prostitute, hearing him playfully say folk "paid to bone him" is *cough* "hard to swallow."
Neek the Exotic :: Hustle Don't Stop :: HustleDontStopMusic
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Neek the Exotic has always felt like a rich man's Big Shug. Whilst Big Shug relied heavily on DJ Premier's beats and scratches to get him through albums like "Who's Hard" and "Street Champ", Neek has always had Large Professor to lean on. Both Shug and Neek are products of early 90s, New York street rap and rarely veer from talk of money, hustling and supposedly "being real", yet as far as rap skills go, they make Group Home sound like Black Star. "Hustle Don't Stop" isn't quite as simplistic as some of Big Shug's offerings, but it does see Neek provide some poor rhymes. It's not just the drivel he spouts, but the awkward way it is delivered. It follows similarly weak efforts from the likes of NYC emcees Nutso and H. Stax, but given the album is scattered with songs shorter than three minutes long, there really isn't much substance behind the standard boasts and brags. I don't mind hearing an emcee constantly claim he's the best if he does it in an entertaining manner. Unlike many, I can still enjoy a Canibus song because of the ridiculous vocabulary on display, or a song from Fat Joe will at least be provocative and tightly delivered. With Neek the Exotic, you really are working with scraps. He sounds delusional on "Boots Is Laced", claiming to be a lyricist that uses metaphors, whereas the song "Hustle Don't Stop" is formulaic â€“ the hook actually sounds like an upstart wrote and delivered it. Even the constantly pissed off Bumpy Knuckles sounds disinterested on "Get the City Warm", not so much jaded but just old. The song "Hustle Don't Stop" is as generic as rap music gets, with Neek devoid of any connection to the listener. It's soulless rapping at times, hypocritical at others. "Dream Catcher" sees Neek claim he "doesn't give a fuck how much money you've got" yet "We Hot" sees him start the song with "get that dough baby". Production-wise, "Hustle Don't Stop" does have some keepers. "Fuck the World" is a cosy track from Confidence, who also provides a dope posse cut for O.C. and Sadat X on "Hello Everybody", and the addictive riffs on "Boots Is Laced". Probably the strongest beat is The Architype's "Street Life", although there are striking resemblances to M.O.P.'s "Street Life" from their "Foundation" album â€“ mainly in that they both have crap hooks. "
Outcast Youth :: Rebel Diaries :: Bandcamp
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Jaroslav 'Czechone' Lavick
"If you were beyond single digit age in 1991 it's quite likely that you remember PM Dawn's hit "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss". The song was about as lightweight as hip hop could be, so light that it begat the wrath of KRS-One who threw group member Prince Be off stage during a live show; in reaction to magazine comments by Prince Be against KRS, and also as a general act of defiance from KRS against watered-down, commercial hip hop (curiously, commercialism in hip hop doesn't upset people nearly as much these days – I'm not sure why?). Whether you liked the song or not, there's no denying it was very catchy, mostly due to riding a conspicuous sample from Spandau Ballet's "True". Of course, hip hop may never have advanced far if not for sampling, but some tracks such as PM Dawn's hit relied on their sample so heavily that their song was almost a cover version of the original. Not all tracks that used their samples in such deliberate ways were viewed in such a negative light though, even some of those that reached PM Dawn levels of chart success were more loved than loathed e.g. Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" and Eminem's "Stan". So what does this have to do with a unknown rapper from Liverpool in the UK called Outcast Youth? Well in 2008 he released his first mixtape (which might as well be an album) called "Rebel Diaries", and essentially the WHOLE release is track after track of songs that live and breathe via lungs of sampled pop songs. Jumping into the future a bit, his "South Sefton Mixtape" from 2010 also uses the same template, as do most of his other random songs on Youtube. At the risk of having my hip hop license revoked (and hence probably never to be invited to write for this site again) I'm going to reveal a little secret to all seven people who read my reviews on here: Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift are guilty musical pleasures of mine. Yes this is coming from a 40 year old middle-aged man, who for more than half his lifetime has been proclaiming "hardcore hip hop 'til I die". Why am I stupid enough to admit this here and now (or ever)? Well once upon a time I was browsing Youtube for Kelly Clarkson material, which led me to a Kelly sampled song called "Forlorn at Platform One" by the then unknown to me Outcast Youth, which in turn opened the door to the rest of Outcast Youth's work (forgive that it's only a live gig recording of the song in dubious quality)."
Stereo Boyz :: Carz, Clubz & Theaterz :: Stereo Boyz
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"I'm always happy when rappers go out of their way to rep Detroit given that I lived in Eastern Michigan for a while and still have family and friends out there. I still remember when you could go in stores and find Eminem's "Infinite" on vinyl before Aftermath/Interscope had them all pulled and destroyed. At times I feel conflicted when reviewing albums from the D knowing I may have a little bias, until I remember that I've seen live shows and bought music from Illinois to Florida, from New York to Texas - and I have fond memories of all of those places even though I never stayed for more than a week. Hip-Hop is after all a global language - that's what the whole "UK Month" at RR is meant to be a reminder of. If anything though I may have higher expectations of Detroit rappers, just because I know the untapped potential that resides within, and the suffering of the residents who lived through the decline of the auto industry. Motown turned into a low town, and though the occasional Stanley Cup victory can raise hopes, the economic realities and boarded up houses are still there. I want rappers from the D to go harder, to do more, to be better - not just for themselves but for everybody who doesn't get that chance. I feel like the caller in the opening skit of "Carz, Clubz & Theaterz" who says he appreciates anybody who takes Detroit, puts it on their back and tries to carry it. That's one heavy ass fucking burden. Ultimately I think my affection for the D and higher expectations from the D lead to a healthy balance, and last time I checked in with Mixo and Mic Audio on "Live from the Ghettoblaster" that came out perfectly. I feel what the Stereo Boyz are trying to do, but I want them to do it better. They are doing their part to answer that on the extremely dense "CC&T" release - nearly 80 minutes of music in total. That makes it virtually impossible to write something worthwhile about all 24 songs, but it doesn't stop me from highlighting dope tracks like "Paper Stackz," which bangs out piano like Mixo and Audio just joined M.O.P."
uMaNg :: The Revisited :: Bandcamp
as reviewed by Jaroslav 'Czechone' Lavick
"If someone asked me who my favourite rapper from Utah is, I couldn't answer them. In fact, forget about favourites, I can't even think of ONE off the top of my head. Now that might simply be a reflection on my knowledge of regional US rappers, or memory slipping in old age, but I think the reality is more that Utah hasn't been a location synonymous with hip hop over the years and will likely never be. Not that he's out to sell himself on the fact, but uMaNg (not a typo) is a resident of Salt Lake City, Utah, and thus holds the distinction of being the first rapper I've heard from that part of the US. Frankly though, the place he calls home doesn't particularly hold much influence over his style; he originates from New Jersey, and has enlisted the skills of Swedish producer B.B.Z Darney to compose the sonic arrangements for his 3rd album "The Revisited". It's no secret to most of us that present day European hip hop beat-smiths tend to favour the traditional East Coast underground hip hop sounds, and B.B.Z Darney is no different in also possessing a "New York State of Mind" musically. Therefore, you're definitely getting something with a New York hip hop identity here. Initially, I'm going to point out a couple things about this album that may sound quite negative, but bear with me as you'll see that things aren't necessarily as bad as I first make them out to be. I can't really argue with the statement in the liner notes of a "90's influence can be felt all throughout the album, from beginning to end", but it's been a long time since I've heard an album where the songs sound so similar. I'm all for a cohesive sound across an album (and generally demand it), and obviously having only one producer behind "The Revisited" leads to that uniformity, but there's a fine line between cohesion and replication - and there's a definite lean to the latter for some of the tracks on this album. I'm not exaggerating in saying that musically the album doesn't really deviate from its core sound for twelve of its sixteen tracks (there is a mid-album grouping of a quartet of songs which can be seen as representing a "breadth of sound" segment of sorts). The majority of tracks use the formula of: a head nodding, mid-tempo breakbeat at the core, tinkling piano keys/faint guitar strums/subtle horns, vocal samples from other rappers in the chorus, and the dusty vinyl static effect has a strong presence also (which I do like but the novelty is wearing off for me as more and more people use it). "
YC The Cynic :: GNK :: YC The Cynic
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"YC The Cynic is misunderstood. People sometimes mistake cynicism for pessimism. The latter means you believe nothing good can happen and that everything is hopeless. Cynicism is much more nuanced - you can believe in good things and see possible futures that are brighter, but SELFISH PEOPLE get in the way. Cynicism makes you doubt the actions of others - if they do something nice for you, they must benefit from it in some form short term or long term. If you're in politics, movies or the music industry, it's entirely healthy to be cynical. The downfall of cynicism is that it leads to isolation - if you never trust anyone other than yourself you wind up alone. YC walks a careful line between isolation and inclusion on "GNK." Life experience has made him cynical, but the very act of recording and releasing an album suggests he still wants to connect with others. Artists are driven to create (sometimes to the point of madness) but not always driven to share. When you identify with your art, criticism cuts like a knife, and for someone who puts their worldview in their rap moniker that could cut deeply. YC takes that risk because cynicism is not pessimism - he believes in the power of his art and has been rewarded with critical acclaim for his previous mixtapes. "GNK" won't break the trend. There are many worthwhile moments to highlight in 12 songs and 46 minutes of Frank Drake produced tracks, but I'd like to focus on "Murphys Law" while I have your attention. This dark whistling melody is a post-modern revisit to the philosophy of Notorious B.I.G., borrowing in part from "What's Beef?" and "Get Money," then more heavily from "Notorious Thugs." While YC does display the ability to speed flow the way Biggie did for a verse, that's hardly the point. When he says "look at all the bullshit I've been through," he's actually painting a portrait of the Bronx as a whole - and also issuing a stern warning as to how destructive and contrary humans can be. YC almost seems to be challenging reviewers on "The Heaviest Cross" when he says "your website rating was under 8/well fuck the numbers, I want reactions." My reaction to YC is that he's an extremely intelligent young man, and his "cross to bear" is the burden of wanting to make significant statements in the environment of "A&Rs giving me the song and dance" because he won't dumb it down. "
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