If you missed any of the new reviews this week, check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Brycon :: ECU :: Megakut/Alchemetric
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Alchemetric is a San Francisco based imprint known best for their music, though their expressly stated and seemingly noble goal is "to unify the masses through the understanding of Sacred Geometry expressed through Fashion, Events & Music Recordings." Naturally you might question what "Sacred Geometry" is, but there's not very many definitive answers to be had. In the broadest sense sacred geometry believes math is at the heart of everything we know or observe, including the fundamental nature of the universe itself. Knowing the nature of "what is" becomes a increasingly esoteric metaphysical discussion though which I'd prefer to leave to Aristotle and KRS-One. Math has often been elevated to religious importance throughout history though, and invoked through symbols such as triangles, or given supernatural weight in for example a "holy trinity." There's no doubt ancient architects and artists often searched for a balance or symmetry to their work, though whether or not this was religious or spiritually motivated is filtered entirely through the perception of modern eyes. Before this discussion (golden) spirals even further out of control, it's fair to say that music is one of the easier places to inject a math discussion, since everything from the hertz frequency of musical notes to the tempo a drumbeat is played at is expressed via numbers. I looked for purposeful math in the construction of Brycon's "ECU" since my laptop suggested it was 28 songs and 24 minutes long, but when I added the song lengths up the actual run time was 23:53. No sacred geometry in that one. The self-described "Gurp-voyager" and eclectic producer has provided beats for everyone from Action Bronson to Masta Ace, but on "ECU" he claims to have returned from Central America with "an armload of records and a sleep-addled brain." Personally if he has that many new sources to draw inspiration and/or samples from, I'm a little surprised that "ECU" isn't a longer album."
Gajah & Mute Speaker :: On & Off Spring :: Acid Lab Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Long time Los Angeles rapper Gajah, best known to many of you for his work with the Acid Reign crew, breaks out on a bit of a solo mission here for "On & Off Spring." He's linked up over a long distance for the Brighton based Mute Speaker to produce his tracks. I don't mean L.A. to New York as in Brighton Beach - I mean L.A. to the southern shores of the United Kingdom. This makes the album a perfect candidate for our UK Month here at RapReviews, an annual October tradition of examining the best beats and rhymes our Queen's English (or cockney slanglish) speaking brethern have to offer. It's a sometimes overlooked scene in the States, and guilty as charged I have to admit I've overlooked Mute Speaker until now. He's got a Bandcamp page though I'll have to explore further at a later date. Gajah has a naturally California sensibility to his laid back delivery, a Project Blowidian and Hieroglyphical approach to his "On & Off" beat delivery. He's also unapologetically nice - so much so he should probably remind you that kindness shouldn't be mistaken for weakness. "Enough Is Enough" exemplifies that right down to his choice of curse words, when the strongest adjective he'll use is "caca" - as in "you talk a lot of caca, but your words don't bother Gajah." There doesn't seem to be a mean bone in his body, but it doesn't make him a weak emcee. In fact he frequently reminds me of Chali 2na both in terms of his vocal tone and how quickly and nimbly he is able to spit similar syllables in succession. Combined with Mute Speaker's beats this leads to uniquely mesmerizing songs like "Peace of My Mind" featuring Shaunise, which shuffles and rocks bells at a pleasant clip. Shaunise's soulful singing is the perfect break between verses."
Hijack :: The Horns of Jericho :: Warner Bros. Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Jaroslav 'Czechone' Lavick
"Hijack's "The Horns of Jericho", from 1991, is acknowledged by many veteran UK hip hop fans as the magnum opus of Britcore; to the initiated it holds the status of Public Enemy's "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back". It isn't nearly as politically themed as the P.E. classic though, so it's just as much Ultramagnetic MC's "Critical Beatdown" or Tuff Crew's "Back to Wreck Shop" in terms of being a showcase of pure hip hop skills at their peak. It was also seen as the blueprint for many other UK albums that followed it, those of a harder nature at least. Being fanatical about UK hip hop during that era, I too have always regarded it as one of the best UK hip hop albums – an opinion that has held steadfast over the years. However, I will admit that the album is not perfection, and the sands of time have contributed to slightly weathering down its appeal over the years also. "Hold on a minute there Mr. Know-It-All Reviewer, what is this "Britcore" you speak of?" It's not easily pigeon-holed as one specific sound/vibe; put simply you could say that it's golden era British hardcore hip hop - but then that's probably too loose a description. Although not all aspects of the following criteria need to be met, a few random generally defining Britcore characteristics are: beats at high BPM's; the MC's rapping at a fast pace and/or with menace; drums that hit HARD; frenetic DJ work which has a very dominant presence; a dark and aggressive feel in the music with references to horror, war or other generally sinister vibes; air raid sirens and/or emergency type sound effects; raggamuffin styles in the emceeing. I'll add what might be construed as a negative too, i.e. the production and/or sound quality tends to be a bit unpolished or "B-Grade", but I've always felt that to be a factor which provides a most appealing rawness. Or to put it in a relative sense; give a UK touch to some of the tracks by Public Enemy ("Rebel Without a Pause", "Burn Hollywood Burn", "Move!"), Ice-T ("The Hunted Child", "Hit the Deck"), N.W.A. ("Straight Outta Compton"), Ice Cube ("Wicked"), and numerous other busy, noise laden tracks from the good old days where "hardcore hip hop" didn't just mean someone was rapping about guns. "
J Spades :: More Money More Pagans II :: Stash Money
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"Contrary to what the title of his mixtape might suggest, J Spades doesn't spread the gospel. Maybe we'd have to go back to the first installment of "More Money More Pagans" to find out what makes a 'pagan' in Spades' world, but my educated guess would be that it refers to distractors and opponents, the religiously tinged term actually harkening back to a precursor of the ever popular 'hater' - the 'non-believer.' Either way it proves the East Londoner tries to add a bit of his own flavor to familiar formulas. And familiar they should be, at least if your playlist includes the likes of YMCMB, Lex Luger, A$AP Rocky, Waka Flocka and Young Chop. In short, it's the 50 Cent template we've heard so often in the past ten years, rejuvenated with a few newer trends and tropes. In fact "More Money More Pagans II" manages to sound up-to-date, the soundscape being filtered through various grey shades and purple drapes. The apocalyptic "3000" does justice to the Waka Flocka feature on the hook, "Big up My Connect" is a dark southern trap track, "Feeling It" is likely a borrowed beat from either one of these newly emerged rap goths while "Rap Game" is an only slightly retooled track off "Live.Love.A$AP." "Wavey", an original CeeFigz production, sounds exactly like it should, a simple hypnotizing synth pattern hovering in mid-air. Steel Banglez is equally talented at mimicking modern beat patterns, "Over Here" sounding almost like a showcase of different trap variations. The Beat Boss is responsible for the musically lighter moments - "Bad Bitch," "Hot Gyal" and particularly "#TGIF," the commercially most promising song (co-produced with CeeFigz) with a welcome cameo from the ever-clever Sway. Coincidentally or not, two tracks include samples made famous (to a rap audience, at least) by Jay-Z records. "Sidemans" actually seems to sample directly from "Imaginary Player," but either way it's a good example of J Spades' solid rap skills as he addresses some variation of these 'pagans' in a conversational but still fairly convincing tone."
Mac Dre :: The Musical Life of Mac Dre Vol. 1 - The Strictly Business Years 1989-1991 :: Young Black Brotha
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"Andre Hicks' posthumous releases might just outnumber Tupac Shakur's. The collection at hand deserves a closer look because it operates with a sense of history, gathering tracks from the earliest stage of his career. Although Mac Dre's years with producer Khayree normally fly under the banner Young Black Brotha (also the title of his very first EP from 1989), the label was called Strictly Business at that time. As for the exact duration of these 'Strictly Business Years', there's some doubt that the collection's 13 tracks all have their origin in the timeframe given in the subtitle since some of them weren't released until 1992 or 1993, and even factoring in a prison term it's unlikely that everything here falls into that three-year period. What is confirmed is that it all started in 1989 with the 19-year old releasing the EP "Young Black Brotha" (not to be confused with "Young Black Brotha - The Album," which concluded the Strictly Business era in 1993). Dre's debut release is represented with three tracks - "Young Black Brotha," "Livin a Mac's Life" and "Too Hard For Da Fuckin Radio." Spelled "Too Hard For the Fuckin Radio" here, the latter song is exemplary of Mac Dre's music. Loved in and highly representative of the Bay Area but long ignored in the rest of the country, it embodies the independent spirit that drove a rap scene that didn't constantly hope to be discovered by the national music industry. The irony is that Khayree was also part of one of the most successful rap albums of that time, Vanilla Ice's "To the Extreme," but that's another story. "Too Hard For the Fuckin Radio" doesn't revel in the fact that it doesn't conform to a radio format the way N.W.A or the Geto Boys would have done. It's not something he rubs in the face of white America or the music industry but a self-evident fact. "
Smiler :: The Coming :: The Portfolio Music
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"It's him again. The talented mixtape spitter on the verge of his major label debut. UK delegate Smiler is signed to Warner and already made his official single debut, but drops the free "The Coming" in anticipation of the retail release. He has prepared a couple of ear-catching moments that play with your familiarity with famous tunes, but kicks things off with a marathon verse on the opener and title track. Introduced by a piano somewhere between pop and classical, then accompanied by a combo of stuttering drums and slicing synths, he brings us up to speed with his career with a matching fast-paced flow. Zooming in, we notice his ability to weave a web of arguments. Listening to Smiler can be an intense experience, and the South London rapper is mindful enough to make it easier for us through guest rappers and singers and catchy concepts. There's a spiritual note to "Head Above Water," not just due to the wailing vocals that are present throughout the track, but the almost meditation-like focus Smiler and Giggs display in their performances, Smiler's youthful passion meshing well with Giggs' seen-it-all demeanor, the contrast supported by a beat switch during Giggs' part. Conversely, guests Blade Brown and Black The Ripper follow Smiler's lead on the mellow Nina Simone-sampling "New Day" (no relation to the "Watch the Throne" track of the same name) with reflective contributions. Not content with following old rap conventions, Smiler invites singer Folly Rae for the modern indie dance-inspired "Lights," which concludes a project that is never crude or grating musically. Some of his musical maneuvers are admittedly a bit on the risky side. He adds a superficial shine to Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good" with the bragfest "So Good" and turns Daft Punk's summer smash "Get Lucky" into "Get Money." Yet both renditions are carefully put into a familiar hip-hop context, betraying Smiler's sensibilities towards the craft and the genre. Remaining doubts about Smiler's song interpretations are dispelled by "Chocolate Monsters," his version of "Swimming Pools," which replaces alcohol with heroin, an eerie experience both because of the topic matter and how well Smiler imitates Kendrick Lamar."
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