If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Pete Santos' "Our Lives Begin" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Pete Santos :: Our Lives Begin
Author: Sy Shackleford
"Webster's dictionary defines the word "appetizer" as 'a food or drink that stimulates the appetite and is usually served before a meal. Something that stimulates a desire for more.' If you go to a restaurant, you order buffalo wings or shrimp before your Porterhouse steak is served. If you patronize a movie theater, you see upcoming film trailers before the feature presentation. If you attend a music concert, you get the opening act before you see the headliner. It's basically a preview before the main show. While a preview's purpose is to get one excited, that accomplishment is dependent on how strong the preview is presented. How many times have we heard an artist release his first single, watch it gain an incredible buzz, only for the album its included on to be a complete and utter disappointment? Lots of times, in my case. Two things changed that, though: MP3 file sharing and the market for extended plays. The latter is particularly mentioned because it can be released as something of a sampler for the upcoming LP. On "Our Lives Begin", Finland-based emcee Pete Santos has kept the preview concept paramount in his sphere of importance. Though composed of only four songs, they each represent some level of improvement musically from Mr. Santos' 2016 debut, "Riding to the Tune of Time". Rumor has it that the EP was made on a shoestring budget, but that's only reflected in the length, not the sonic quality. The production was handled by Finnish producers and Pete sounds more comfortable behind the mic this time. While I maintain that his voice and adult contemporary lyrics remain parallels to west coast emcee Murs, his flow is now less choppy and more relaxed in each bar. Honestly, every track here sounds like it wouldn't be out of place in either a club-friendly atmosphere or the radio. There's an airy smoothness on this EP that was lacking on Mr. Santos' debut. The opening track "Ew Ahh", has the title chanted in the hook. Produced by Miika Uusikyla, he layers a soundscape with synth-heavy notes and distorted vocals. Topically, Pete's lyrics are emblematic of the hip-hop idiom "Can't Stop, Won't Stop" combined with a sliver of humility. Aron 'Aatsi' Onditi both produced and sang the hook on "Our Lives Begin", a reflective and introspective lyrical journey about where lives end and begin. With lyrics like that question the police, struggle, and raising children, not to mention finger snap snares and wistful synths, Pete has an accompanying video that corresponds with the music."
CunninLynguists :: The Rose EP :: QN5 Music
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"More shocking to me than the short length of this EP (13 minutes) is the long time since we reviewed a CunninLynguists album. I don't know who was slacking on that one but I'll take the rap for the team that we didn't cover "Strange Journey Volume Two" or "Volume Three." It's certainly not through lack of appreciation for what Deacon, Natti and Kno bring to the table, and in fact we've reviewed a couple of Deacon's instrumental releases in the interim and sung their praises. Now it's time to bring it back full circle and combine those beats together with the rhymes -- and they are powerful rhymes. Let's start with "Riot!" They definitely aren't mincing words, but that's something the aptly named cunning linguists have never been known for. As Andre Benjamin once rapped their oral demonstration is like clitoral stimulation, and while Kno plays the background with a beautiful instrumental for "Red, White & Blues" featuring Jason Coffey, he's just as present as if he was dropping bars. It takes a beautiful melody like this to contrast with the deadly serious words that Deacon spits. The poetry (and it should truly be called such) is an incredible counterpoint to those pundits who always say "If you hate America so much then why don't you leave?" That's not the answer and never has been. You can still love being a citizen of America without having to pretend everything is "great" or that it ever was "great" at some mythical point in the past worth scrabbling to get back to. Being American will definitely leave you red, white, black and blue over the years - and anybody who wants to sing those blues should be listened to and given deference given this country's ugly history. Deacon isn't pulling punches with his bars on this EP. Just read what historians have to say about the Civil War and the REAL reasons behind the country's schism and the Emancipation Proclamation. That doesn't you can't still love freedom though as Coffey sang on the opener: "my love's true/even after everything you put my blood through."
LL Cool J :: 14 Shots to the Dome :: Def Jam/Columbia Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"This review holds true to the maxim "we welcome any feedback" that appears on the RapReviews home page, because "14 Shots to the Dome" is a direct suggestion from one of our readers. I decided to take this one on personally given that the album is now nearly 25 years old (released March 30, 1993) and I remember that a pre RapReviews 'Flash' thought it was a dramatic departure from the formula that had served LL well on "Mama Said Knock You Out." We all knew that James Todd Smith was HARD, he had demonstrably proved that time and time again every time he was criticized for a song like "I Need Love" or an album like "Walking With a Panther," but there was something about "14 Shots" that just sounded DESPERATEto prove a point nobody had asked or wanted LL to prove again. It was forced, it was corny, and much of it was just plain TERRIBLE as a result. Would two decades and change temper a younger Flash's opinion? Let's see. From a technical perspective the opening track "How I'm Comin'" is not a bad song. Marley Marl, QDIII and Mr. Smith himself combined to produce a speaking thumping, head nodding beat that you wouldn't be ashamed to crank up to the maximum in your ride (and we all know LL loves a "Boomin' System"). The song gave a nod to its chief sample source in the title - Bobby Byrd's "Hot Pants - I'm Coming, I'm Coming, I'm Coming." It also borrows from "Don't Change Your Love" by Five Stairsteps and "Operator's Choice" by Mikey Dread. All of the right elements are there but something's still wrong. Even on the title track of "Mama Said Knock You Out," LL seemed to be simply stating facts with a braggadocious flair and a cocky confidence. "Don't call it a comeback, I been here for years." It was a statement of truth, and he delivered it with authority, but he was still FLOWING to the beat. On "How I'm Comin" that confident demeanor gives way to something one would never expect from the author of "I'm Bad" - a harrowed and unsettled urgency that causes LL to CONSTANTLY YELL to the point his voice is constantly breaking like a second puberty. It has been suggested by others that LL was rattled by the rising popularity of West coast gangster rap, and if so it comes across in his lyrics, which are now obsessed with violent machismo. "Stiggidy step up and get your nostrils damaged." Not only is that a bad enough impersonation of Das EFX to sound like a diss, it just sounds silly. Why would you damage nostrils? Why not just break someone's nose? We just saw you punching a heavy bag. Did you forget how to throw a jab?"
Oddisee :: The Beauty in All :: Mello Music Group
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"Instrumental hip-hop has come a long way. The disc jockey's influence as the one who started it all was long felt, but eventually, with the widespread availability of samplers and drum machines, instrumental beatmaking began to take shape even as it still catered to the needs of the rapper for some time, even when every physically released instrumental was primarily a service to those working with hip-hop beats on a daily basis, from amateur rappers to professional radio jocks. Full emancipation from the MC and the DJ was necessary, and if there's been anything like an emancipation proclamation of instrumental hip-hop, it was DJ Shadow's "Endtroducing...," which kickstarted a genre that thrives to this day, even as 'instrumental hip-hop' remains an indistinct label that continuously stands in the shadow of more prominent and popular instrumental electronic music. If freedom involves responsibility, for instrumental hip-hop that responsibility consists of accepting that it will be judged on its own. Sympathizers of the now grown-up genre are beyond being simply thankful to hear hip-hop in instrumental form, they want quality. Oddisee is one contemporary beatmaker who practices instrumental hip-hop very much as an art of its own. He has made beats to rap to, and regularly raps over them himself, but an Oddisee instrumental track can and will absolutely stand on its own. His 2013 full-length "The Beauty in All" treats the single instrumental as a musical individual with its own history and character. Track number 1, "After Thoughts," incidentally (or not) recalls the opening mood of "Endtroducing..."'s "Building Steam With a Grain of Salt" with its melancholic piano sprinkles. Even though soul food appears to be the order of the day, the track's earthtones are electrically projected onto the canvas, moreso than painted the old fashioned way. As announced by a break of bohemian funk that is attached to the opener, the album quickly flows in other directions."
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