Saturday July 11, 2020

The (W)rap Up - Week of June 24, 2014
Posted by Emanuel Wallace at Tuesday, July 1st, 2014 at 1:00PM :: Email this article :: Print this article

If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including J-Live's "Around The Sun" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!

[Around the Sun]J-Live :: Around the Sun
Mortier Music
Author: Grant Jones

“J-Live is one of a select few artists that can truly claim to have never dropped a bad record. Sure, a song here or there may be underwhelming, but his discography is enviable. It's already been stated in previous reviews of J-Live's work that he remains a reliable source of high-quality hip hop, so I'll refrain from praising his past efforts too much. Perhaps a trait that isn't often mentioned is  J-Live's ability to produce TIMELESS hip hop. Throwing on "The Best Part" or "All Of The Above" in 2014, they still sound supreme and not of any era in particular. This is of course due to the soulful beats and natural flow that just ooze from the guy's pores - I saw J-Live, ahem, "live" what must have been five years ago and even now, it was still the best performance in living memory. It's no coincidence that his name incorporates his "live" side, proving that emcees can DJ and spit AT THE SAME TIME. The guy clearly loves hip hop and it emanates throughout each of his albums, all of them incorporating a kind of modern, matured sound that holds up through the years. Enough dick riding though, it's time to break down the sixth full-length from the Live one. Given every project from J-Live is at least good to great, "Around The Sun" is further proof that some artists get better with age. Much like Pharaohe Monch's "P.T.S.D." (itself almost paying homage to J-Live's "S.P.T.A." by its love for  acronyms), J-Live proves that natural emceeing and soulful (self-produced at times) production is a winning formula. Flow is inch-perfect on songs such as "No Doubt" and the delightful "Money Matters". Delightful? I know that word is as commonly used as "wonderful" or "spiffing" when describing hip hop, but it precisely sums up the piano loop on display here.”

Donnie Darko :: Redemption :: Never So Deep Records 
as reviewed by Matt Jost

[Redemption]“Longevity in underground rap is a rare thing indeed. If a label's recording history goes back 10 years and more plus involves largely the same names, at least some right decisions must have been made in regards to business model and artistic vision. Never So Deep Records, producer DJ Bless and rapper Donnie Darko is a combination that has happened before, "Redemption" being their latest effort. That there were others before can be gleaned from the fact that 7 tracks on "Redemption" are actually 2nd or 3rd parts of previous songs, a method of songwriting that can leave newcomers to Donnie Darko (like myself) feel excluded. Single "One False Move Pt. 2" apparently references the rapper's very first appearance on a 2005 Never So Deep release. DJ Bless provides him with a beat that sits squarely between dark, hard and melodic, an appropriate backdrop for the unflinching hood impressions. The most remarkable thing about Donnie Darko the rapper is that he sticks to the late '90s/early '00s template of hard life told from a heroic perspective. This is the kind of do-or-die, serious-as-a-heart-attack rap that even the leaders of the new school of hard knocks like Torae or Slaine have since toned down. To continue the comparisons, with an intonation, vocal tone and breath control not unlike Papoose's and particularly Reef the Lost Cauze's, Darko lacks that emceeing edge that the latter two, despite their uncertain position in rap's all-time ranking, nevertheless exhibit. That leaves a fairly generic performance that passes due to pure functionality. The Newark native wisely opens the album with the cautionary title track, explicitly stating that he's not out to glorify the hood. Shortly after he realizes that he's "tired of kickin' knowledge" because "niggas don't ever listen," and thus chooses to reach his audience with the big talk and battle raps of "Johnny 5." "Dead or alive I'm the best, fuck your Top Five," he proclaims even earlier, and while healthy confidence is to be applauded, the empty boast is another throwback to the days when unsubstantiated blustering belonged to a rapper's standard repertoire. Donnie Darko is a rapper that is able to connect the dots - but not the metaphorical, unseen dots whose connection would reveal unexpected insights the way generations of top-tier MC's under and above the ground have done, but the dots you find in the Book for Rap Beginners where everybody can learn to string together sentences that make sense in a limited rap context and that teaches you how to vocally pack more cleverness into your bars than they actually possess.”

Meyhem Lauren & Buckwild :: Silk Pyramids :: Thrice Great LLC 
as reviewed by Grant Jones

[Silk Pyramids]“Looking not unlike the legendary Kool G Rap on the album cover, Meyhem has been cooking up traditional street shit for a while now, generating a healthy buzz that's seen him drop numerous 12"s over the past few years. Meyhem is certainly an emcee that harkens back to the days of G Rap and Polo, yet maintains a far more digestible style that is a natural fit for sleigh bells and crashing drums. 2010's "Got The Fever" is a gem that saw Meyhem increase his presence on other emcee's records, teaming with favourites Action Bronson and Roc Marciano. It's good to hear Buckwild produce an entire project that isn't just a stack of DATs with old beats on, and "Silk Pyramids" will appease those craving a dope project from the oft-starved New York youngsters. One of those guys turns in an appearance here: Troy Ave. I'll be honest, Troy Ave isn't going to save New York hip hop, he's not yet developed an individuality or lyrical prowess that can match previous kings like Biggie, Nas or Jay. His verse on "Street Hop" fails to deliver, especially when paired with Nas on the hook and a throwback production. It's a missed opportunity, one that could have leant this album some much-needed buzz, given that Meyhem also finds himself in the dreaded "New York rapper" sub-genre that unnecessarily throws a burden over any emcee from the Big Apple. Thankfully, Meyhem Lauren proves his worth on "Silk Pyramids". It's the linear, straight-talking method to (the) Meyhem that makes his music so refreshing. Even though I'm 27, I admire the lack of forced profanity on an album drenched in street slang - yet it's no less grimey for it. Billed as in his 20s himself (according to, Meyhem already sounds older than he is, showing he has "Been Official" more than an overworked referee. While much of "Silk Pyramids" is spent painting a darkened image of inner city criminal activity and the lifestyle of those striving to survive, there are moments that highlight Meyhem's creative side. "Can't Fuck Em All" is suitably misogynistic, with humourous quips like "I stole your heart, you probably wish I stole your purse from you" adding much needed light-heartedness to such a generic concept. "100MPH" is the modern equivalent of a Ghostface and Raekwon collaboration (although I'm fully aware both Clan members are still actively recording). Action Bronson rears his heavily-bearded head once again (he's everywhere right now!) and proves why he is the natural successor to Ghostface with his outlandish, vivid imagery and scathing delivery. Ambition and wealth are covered frequently, yet none as passionately as on "Where the $ At". The hook is plain, chanting "We need more money" which given Buckwild has prepared a vicious beat for Meyhem and guest Thirstin Howl III to lay in to, makes it feel like a desperate plea for survival rather than exuberant greed.”

Open Mike Eagle :: Dark Comedy :: Mello Music Group 
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

[Dark Comedy]“L.A. transplant Open Mike Eagle is often called a smart rapper. While it is an accurate description of his brainy rhymes, it's also a backhanded compliment to both Mike and other rappers. Calling Mike a smart rapper implies that his intellect is the most interesting aspect of his music. It also implies that other rappers are dumb, or that Mike is the only person in hip-hop with a college degree. It's hard to be stupid and make a living spitting complex rhymes, and most rappers have more going on upstairs than their songs about sex, drugs, and violence let on. As to the label "smart rapper," while Open Mike Eagle's literate rhymes and obscure references may be his most obvious trait, the "rapper" part is more important. Being smart only matters if you can rap, and Mike's biggest gift is his ability to translate his intellect into compelling rhymes. He's been working on his craft for the better part of a decade. "Dark Comedy," his fourth solo album, is his best work to date. As on his previous albums, he works with electronica-influenced beats, avoiding boom-bap or club rap. There are eleven different producers on "Dark Comedy," unlike his last album, where Awkward produced all the beats. Most of the tracks are melodic and pretty, with the exception of Jeremiah Jae's abrasive beat on "A History of Modern Dance," and Alpha MC's menacing beat on "Doug Stamper." Mike adds to the melodicism by singing most of his rhymes. He experimented with singing rhymes on "4NML HSPTL," but he perfects it here. The sung vocals add emotion to the songs and offset Mike's sometimes monotone delivery. There is a definite nerdy vibe to Open Mike Eagle. He quotes nerd icons They Might Be Giants, raps about role playing games, and uses ten dollar words like "synesthesia" (which is where you perceive sounds as colors). The combination of high-brow lyrics, muted vibe and indie pop sensibilities on "Dark Comedy" also mean that it will probably appeal to many of the college-educated, left-leaning intellectual types that tune in to "This American Life" on a weekly basis (a description which includes myself). However, it would be unfairly reductive and inaccurate to label Mike's music "NPR rap" or "Nerdcore." As brainy and nerdy as he gets at points, there is bite to his songs.”

Sage Francis :: Copper Gone :: Strange Famous Records 
as reviewed by Zach 'Goose' Gase

[Copper Gone]“"When you think you got it all figured out and everything collapses, trust me kid, it's not the end of the world." Those were the final words to Sage Francis' 2010 album, "Li(f)e" from a song called "The Best of Times." That album (and that song in particular) was one of those life changing records that I have re-visited countless times over the past four years, and those final words were a source of comfort for me in the hardest parts of my early 20s. Francis' first album in four years, titled "Copper Gone," often strays from the uplifting message of the final couple of bars of "The Best of Times." "Copper Gone" is noticeably darker and more personal than "Li(f)e," which was a hyper-focused album that revolved more around folk tales and politics than the more confessional and autobiographical style of his early work. After several traumatic events in his personal life, Sage Francis remained secluded in his home for four years - a prominent theme throughout the record. On the extremely intense "Grace," Francis raps about a failed relationship over a haunting piano. Last month fellow indie rap legend, Atmosphere released "Southsiders," which I would consider their weakest album they've ever released. I argued that Slug sounded very uninspired and lacked a lot of the fire he had on previous releases. That album made me question whether certain artists struggle to find inspiration when they reach a certain level of contentment in their lives, as Slug is now settled down with a happy family. But Sage Francis, who is at more-or-less the same place in his rap career, seems to be just getting out of some of the hardest years of his life, and "Copper Gone" is certainly a reflection of that.”

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