If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Rick Ross' "Mastermind" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Rick Ross :: Mastermind
Maybach Music/Def Jam
Author: Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania
""Mastermind" is an incredibly apt name for the sixth Rick Ross album. It's the name of a famous and long-running British quiz show where a brainy contestant sits on a black leather chair for a couple of minutes and is interrogated by the host on their chosen subject of knowledge. Once you've listened to this album a few times, you start to see that Ross, rather than create anything new, is effectively talking about his "chosen subject" for over an hour and dragging in anything/anyone within earshot to help him. He throws around Tupac quotes, Wu choruses, does a Biggie impression and trades bars with a guest list that goes into double digits. It may not be particularly original, but bizarrely enough, "Mastermind" ends up being arguably the best album of his career. The problem is that it's probably a couple of years too late. "God Forgives, I Don't" was an instantly forgettable, overblown waste of time that sapped the steam from Ross' impressive career arc. In an ideal world, "Mastermind" would have been his fifth - a long play with no real singles, consistently excellent production, catchy choruses aplenty and surprisingly little filler. It's clearly designed to garner your respect, and as long as you don't analyse it too deeply, it should succeed. Dig a little deeper (than rap), and the weak points of the entire Rick Ross propaganda story surface once again - it's just that in 2014, his stubborn refusal to go away and decent level of artistry/lyricism mean that his audience is far more forgiving than it used to be. To put it another way, since 50 Cent's last meaningful work ("Curtis" in 2007), Rick Ross has released five albums, with every one finding his target audience and selling healthily too (assuming this one doesn't buck the trend).A promising first track ("Rich Is Gangsta") would ordinarily lead into a gigantic single, but such a song simply doesn't exist on "Mastermind" - so instead we get a surreal double whammy of an imaginary "Drug Dealer Dreams" and Biggie homage/rip-off "Nobody". The latter initially has you yearning for Gorilla Black to make a comeback as Rick's impression seems rather lacklustre, but it does grow after a while."
Dilemmanade :: The Stand :: Mountain Ear Entertainment
as reviewed Matt Jost
"If life gives you dilemmas, make Dilemmanade. If that doesn't make particularly sense to you, it makes perfect sense to the artist formerly known as Johnny Dilemma, who after having to undergo emergency brain surgery five years ago when he was still a teen decided to turn the negatives into something positive and goes by Dilemmanade now. Continuing the penchant for wordplay ostensibly at work here, with his November '13 EP, recorded for the purpose of providing the Canadian with new material for his supporting slots on Machine Gun Kelly's tour, he doesn't just open a stand, he also takes one. Even though it is more of a personal stand, it might prove inspirational for others, just to witness someone tackle life with a newfound enthusiasm after being given a second chance. Mind you, Dilemmanade doesn't run down his medical records in a maudlin tone, far from it. The only time he gets actually serious is in "You Mang!" - and that's a song that features some of our genre's main ingredients as the rapper testifies a strong sense of independence and calls to the stand longtime rap music confidant Tony Montana. From the jump, Dilemmanade comes off as an artist who'd rather thrive on invincibility than vulnerability. The 7-cut EP opens with "World on a String," whose Sinatra sample leads into a firecracker of a track erupting with piercing horn stabs and guitar riffs. As producer Justin Frew prolongs Sinatra's stay, Dilemmanade dives head first into tongue-in-cheek triumphant bravado.What's instantly striking about Dilemmanade is how articulate he is on every level. An extensive live show resume may have something to do with it, and for the most part "The Stand" offers the type of energetic and engaging tunes that should serve him well live. "Ms. Weekend" is a fun tune that combines a catchy metaphor with a punchy Andrew Triple A production. "
GP Wu :: Don't Go Against the Grain :: MCA Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"That's Gladiator Posse Wu, and for anybody questioning the grammatical logic behind this name, these Wu-Tang Clan affiliates will most certainly have some sharp weaponry to answer any queries. An album that tells the listener to NOT go against the grain seems strange, as hip hop was built on going against the grain, fighting the power and opposing the norm. The reason I dug out this forgotten CD is because 2014 sees me going on a quest to collect every Wu-Tang album (yes, even the thousands of affilates' discographies). An admirable feat, yet equally sadistic given the obscurity (and mixed quality) of some that jumped on the Wu-Tang bandwagon, but GP Wu is one of the least Wu-sounding group efforts. Sunz of Man still had that eastern tinge to their instrumentals, Gravediggaz had a brutal imagery in their raps often reserved for RZA's collection of martial arts samples, and more recent groups like Theodore Unit had one of the Wu to guide their street slang through hard-edged beats. This record sounds less like a Wu-Tang release and more like a traditional late 90s effort from Noreaga, Cam'ron or Nature. The beats are simple yet effective, and each emcee is adept at flowing whilst providing a suitably aggressive presence to convince you of their standard braggadocio and street tales. This isn't innovative hip hop, nor does it try to be. Pop Da Brown Hornet, Down Low Recka, Rubbabandz and June Luva make up GP Wu, and none of them ever really left a mark on east coast hip hop. It's a shame, because "Don't Go Against the Grain" shows glimpses of chemistry, sincerity and some excellent production that make this forgotten debut well worth hunting down. Songs like "1st Things First" and "Blow Up" are as good as any fondly remembered track from the Duck Down collectives such as Originoo Gunn Clappaz and Black Moon. There's a refreshing lack of skits and movie quotes that can often be overdone on Wu-affiliate albums, further strengthening the standard New York hip hop album feel."
The Grouch + Eligh :: 333 (The Tortoise and the Crow) :: G&E Music
as reviewed Steve 'Flash' Juon
"I don't often feel the need to start a write-up with a "reviewer's copy disclaimer" (in fact almost never) but when I do I prefer Dos Equis. Wait, what? Sorry about that. This is our first Grouch & Eligh group review since 2009, so it's a monumental moment, and it would be even MORE monumental if I tried to review all THREE. That's for the reason for this unusual disclaimer and opening paragraph - the review copy I received for this write-up is 14 songs and 55 minutes long. If you buy the album off Amazon.com you're getting over 2.5 hours of music. It seems unfair to only charge $11.49 for that, but it would be equally unfair of me to not give full disclosure and say I don't HAVE all of that. I can only review the selection that the label sent me. In case you're wondering the guest on track 13 is from the jam band Slightly Stoopid. If you weren't wondering, then we should just move on. You should however recognize names likeKreayshawn, and while she's had her share of critics, if you know anything about The Grouch or Eligh it's that they proudly do the unconventional. They're likeminded Living Legends (Eligh still active, Grouch on hiatus) from the Los Angeles rap scene. I've always found them interesting alone, but as a duo they do (oh) bring the best out of each other. It's perhaps appropriate that according to the press release, it's one group album and two solo joints comprising the triple threat, which means that the "333" they sent me is what I'd like the most. "ANX" strikes me as an ideal example in its soft strummed melody and in your face lyrics"
Mic Audio & Matcy P :: Hometown Advantage :: The Stereo Boyz
as reviewed Steve 'Flash' Juon
"It's time for another Stereo Boyz affiliated project to grace the digital pages of RapReviews. This time the largely Detroit-based collective has decided to forge a Midwest alliance and drop an EP with Chicago producer Matcy P. For Mic Audio this collaboration is a "full circle" deal given that he describes himself as "Chicago bred," so even though he calls the D home now he clearly feels some loyalty to the Windy City. That's not surprising - I'm not even born there and consider it one of my favorite places on Earth. Chicago's not without its share of problems, but then again neither is Detroit, so heads can relate. They may be rivals when the Bulls play the Pistons or the Lions play the Bears, but when it comes to hard times and passionate emcees, it's not hard to relate from here to there. Actually it's a bit of a misnomer to call "Hometown Advantage" a Mic Audio & Matcy P album, because as the above track featuring Mixo and John Wize illustrates, there are a lot of guest appearances on this short 27 minute release. The whistling "Keeng Cobra" features Kid Boombox, DJ Los scratches on the symphonic boom bap track (appropriately named) "Hands," and "Blood Lines" wouldn't be complete without the addition of Vinnie Bass. One thing that stays consistent despite the changing line-up is the audio production - smooth melodically and well EQ'd with the vocals. The experience of the respective talents of Audio and P is evident throughout the EP."
Pharrell :: G I R L :: Black Lot/Columbia Records
as reviewed Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Pharrell hasn't released a solo album since "In My Mind" in 2006, but that doesn't mean his star as diminished. If anything he's a far bigger star now, having won 5 more Grammy Awards and having produced more top ten hits than we could list if this entire review simply chronicled his accomplishments. His signature falsetto style is warmly embraced by fans of both pop and hip-hop, and even his absurd Canadian mounty Grammy hat went viral and got its own Twitter account. As you can see from the picture accompanying this article, it's far from his first odd fashion choice, but eccentricity is an expected trait when you reach superstardom status. Mr. Williams lives up to those obligations with no pretension. One gets the feeling he'd be an oddball whether or not he had ever gone from that dude from The Neptunes to being famous internationally. It's probably beneficial that he's always been a little weird, a little bit out there, given that he doesn't have to respond to the cliched "keeping it real" dialogue that often dogs hip-hop icons. How real are you supposed to keep it from Virginia Beach anyway? It's not exactly South Central. It's not hard to understand why he can record a song like "Happy," which pre-dates the "G I R L" album on the "Despicable Me 2" soundtrack. He starts the song with the apologetic "It might seem crazy, what I'm 'bout to say" as though it's wrong to feel such joy. It would be wrong to NOT enjoy all of his success though. Since Pharrell encourages us to clap along with the song if we're happy too, I'll go one step further and applaud his enthusiastic ode to joy. You can't look at Pharrell Williams and think things like "he didn't work hard to get where he is" or "he shouldn't be so happy with so much trouble in the world." He did work that hard - he's been producing hits for three decades. He should be that happy - his music brings joy to himself and to millions. Pharrell can't solve all of the problems in Syria, Ukraine or the Central African Republic, but who expected him to anyway? "G I R L" is not an album about complex international politics - it's about dancing your cares away. That's what Pharrell and Timberlake aim to do on "Brand New," a song that's eerily musically and vocally reminiscent of the late great Michael Jackson."
Isaiah Rashad :: Cilvia Demo :: Top Dawg Entertainment
as reviewed Zach 'Goose' Gase
"Towards the end of 2013, the always-boisterous Top Dawg, CEO of TDE, claimed that his crew ran hip hop during that year without releasing a single project - a bold, but not entirely inaccurate claim. What was even bolder was his guarantee that TDE would release six projects in 2014. But in 2014, if any crew can pull off the No Limit circa 1998-style feat, it would be Top Dawg Ent. And their stream of releases was headed off by the newest member of the crew, Tennessee rapper Isaiah Rashad. Rashad, only 22 years old, inked a deal with TDE last September and has since been gaining credibility for his lyrical abilities with performances in TDE's BET Cypher and singles like "RIP Kevin Miller," "Brad Jordan" and "Shot You Down." With his debut project with TDE, "Cilvia Demo," Rashad displays a style that fits nicely in the crew, while also bringing something unique to the group of diversely talented rappers. The southern rapper's vocal delivery is very similar to Kendrick Lamar's, but Rashad has more of an ear for melody. Stand out cuts like the opener "Heredity" and the Outkast homage "West Savannah" features Rashad singing during the entire track without rapping. Lyrically he can hold his own among the crew as well. (Well, maybe not quite on the level of Kendrick or Ab-Soul when he's on.) He trades bars with Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock (who raps: "Cocaine, cocaine, Rock rock kilos, fishscale cut well, you won't find Nemo") on the intense closer "Shot You Down." And he pays homage to his southern roots on "Brad Jordan" and "RIP Kevin Miller," where he raps: "I need diamond teeth, living like it's 1998, like when Percy was the king, back when Juvie was the great." The production sounds pretty similar to the rest of TDE's catalog, with very subdued, atmospheric beats. At times the production teeters back and forth between cohesive and monotonous, but after repeated listens, the tracks stand out apart from each other more as you unravel the heavily layered production. "
Tink :: Winter's Diary 2 :: DatPiff
as reviewed Patrick Taylor
"Tink is a Chicago singer/rapper/songwriter who has put out several mixtapes. While her previous mixtape "alter EGO" focused on her rapping, "Winter's Diary 2" highlights her singing, offering tales of love and lust over subdued production. The line between R&B and hip-hop is blurry. A lot of R&B singers approach their lyrics like rappers, taking their cadence and subject matter from hip-hop. R. Kelly is a good example of this. He's also an example of the practice of pairing sweet melodies with raunchy lyrics, which has been taken to new levels by TeeFlii and Ty Dolla $ign. That approach definitely has its appeal, but it also makes you yearn for the days when R&B singers would just sing about love. Tink takes both approaches, getting dirty on songs like "Dirty Slang" and "Freak Like Me," while offering up sincerely beautiful songs like "Treat Me Like Somebody." While the slightly raunchy R&B tracks are good, it's the romantic songs that make "Winter's Diary 2" special. There is a sense of vulnerability on the mixtape that makes it stand out. "Treat Me Like Somebody" is built around an acoustic guitar and finger snaps, with Tink's unadulterated voice pining. "Lullaby" adds some Auto-tune to create a dreamy feel as Tink coos "I’m gonna be everything you never dreamed/I’m gonna sing oh so sweet, boy you make my heart skip a beat." She even makes the lyric "Money ova everythang/And then you get the wedding ring that you showed me" sound romantic. Tink applies her stripped-down approach to "2 and 2," a song about a cheating boyfriend. Her pretty, plaintive voice is a nice contrast to lyrics like "Who you been fucking on?/I wouldn't be surprised/If you're lying laying in between my thighs." She may be angry in the song, but you also feel how hurt she is."
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