If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Jay-Z's "4:44" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
"Four years ago, when "Magna Carta... Holy Grail" dropped, I considered it mostly a lyrical exercise in an indulgence that was just as pervasive in hip-hop as it was redundant. Though hip-hop music is a youth-oriented institution, if you can spit proper, then age is irrelevant. But my reservations at the time about Jay-Z didn't concern his age, but rather his unparalleled accomplishments, both personally and professionally. With all that he's done, what was there left for him to talk about? He's no longer hungry like he was on "Reasonable Doubt" and "In My Lifetime, Vol. 1"; he doesn't have a crew anymore like he did on "Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter" and "The Dynasty Roc La Familia"; the man has done it all and rapped about it all. While I liked Magna Carta, I felt that he didn't have a wide range of topics to discuss going into it. Songs like "Picasso Baby" and "Tom Ford" unnerved me because I felt it was pretentious to rap about owning high-class art. Four years later, I now consider myself to be wrong. Content-wise, Jay-Z was somewhat pushing the envelope on that album by referencing all this traditional artwork, particularly when you read up on Jean Michel's history ("Spray everything like SAMO"†was a Basquiat reference). His seemingly bourgeois affectations and thirst for "unattainable" things in life was him telling his listeners to wake up and broaden their horizons. While he was bragging, he was definitely not bragging about the same things as everyone else. On his 13th studio album "4:44" that statement rings very true. Actually, he's not bragging at all. What he does is answer the questions that the public most certain has, and then some. Though he has addressed the dichotomy of Shawn Carter and Jay-Z before, "4:44" is his most personal lyrical analysis of his own juxtaposition of selves yet. A mix of confessions, regrets, life-lessons, and legacies, "4:44" is hip-hop as an adult contemporary style. Much like his last album, Jay has shown that he can announce that he'll be releasing an album next week via technological applications and people will devour it in spades. Though this time his album was available exclusively through the Sprint-owned music streaming service TIDAL, the result was still the same. "4:44" has had no lead singles or that much promotion, but he knew the album would sell by the strength of his name and reputation alone. For his business acumen in the streets and the boardroom, he's an amalgam of Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell. Veteran Chicago beatsmith No I.D. produced the entirety of this album. It was a good decision for Jay to work with him. The way No I.D. can flip samples makes his music fun to listen to straight all the way through. It's near-dearth of guest stars here is also a plus. With 10 tracks clocking in at under forty minutes, Jay-Z enlisted just three."
†Vince Staples ::†Big Fish Theory
"In a recent†Pitchfork interview, Long Beach rapper Vince Staples spoke to the deeper meaning behind his lyrics. "It's not for me to answer," He said. "I'm asking, ‘How am I supposed to have a good time when death and destruction is all I see?' If I knew the answer, I wouldn't ask the question...The honest-to-God truth is that the things I say in my music might seem reflective of current times, but I have never went outside of me, my home, and my homies. It's not a bigger picture, it's just a scene."I find it hard to believe that he never thinks beyond his immediate experience, but it's undeniable that much of the appeal of his music is how well he manages to capture his experience on record. Whether rapping about his drug-addicted father on "Nate" or talking about growing up in Long Beach on "Norf, Norf," Staples' music is often about a very specific time and place. In that sense, he's not different from any number of regional rappers making mixtapes about their neighborhood. Hip-hop is built on local scenes. What Staples has that your average (or even above-average) young street rapper lacks is an ability to question the narrative he's telling, and a sharp sense of self-awareness and perspective. In some ways, Staples is like a younger, more grounded version of Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick ping-pongs between wanting to be a good Christian, wanting to be a hedonistic rap superstar, and wanting to stay true to his roots. Staples, on the other hand, calls shenanigans on all of it, approaching both his new fame and his rough upbringing with a clear-eyed sense of distance. From day one Staples has questioned hip-hop tropes and cliches. He understands why people become gangbangers or drug dealers, but is also aware of what a lose-lose situation it is. On this album, he's taking a long hard look at the success he's achieved, pointing out the high cost of fame and vampiric qualities of the press. "Yeah Right," the banger that features Kendrick, is about questioning the fantasy world that rappers portray."
Bonelang ::†Venn Diagrams, Pt. I†:: Bonelang.com†
as reviewed by†Patrick Taylor
"Bonelang are a mutli-ethnic hip-hop duo from Chicago whose EP title references a 25-foot tall Venn diagram the duo constructed out of bones, cacti, soil, and sunflowers, "in the name of decoding the illusion of safe space for a queer person of color in America." That's definitely interesting, but it also a little out there. Could a hip-hop duo with such a lofty academic/artistic/political bent really make good music? As it turns out, yes. Musically, Bonelang have something in common with the Doomtree collective, in that their music pulls from multiple genres but is firmly rooted in hip-hop. They draw from gospel, R&B, indie pop, jazz, and electronica. Working with multiple genres is tricky to do well. If the artist isn't careful, their amalgamation of styles ends up being a hot mess that never adds up to the sum of its parts. Bonelang don't fall into that trap. Everything is balanced in a way that works together. From what I could tell from seeing videos of them live, much of their music is made with live instruments, which creates an added depth to their sound. Rapper Samy Language has a confident and unique flow. One moment he's drawling his lines, the next he's rapping in a rapid-fire staccato, and then he'll go into an impassioned baritone that is almost like Bobcat Goldthwait. He's complimented by Matt Bone's soulful singing, which rounds out their sound."
DJ Khaled ::†Grateful†::†We the Best/Epic Records†
as reviewed by†Steve 'Flash' Juon
"This didn't need to be a double album. Before DJ Khaled fans take exception and fly off the handle, let me clarify that I'm referring to the packaging and†NOT†to the quality of the music. Disc one is 42 minutes long, disc two is 44 minutes long, and current CD manufacturing tolerances allow between 80-85 minutes of music on a disc. Cutting just†ONE†track from either disc would have enabled this entire double album to fit onto one disc alone. I nominate "I'm So Grateful (Intro)." It's five minutes long, it features some singing from Sizzla I doubt rap fans care about (I don't), and we already know DJ Khaled is "Grateful" for the blessings in his life just from the album title and the fact he put his son Asahd on the cover. In fact he's so "Grateful" for Asahd that he even made him the executive producer, which means his young son is already earning revenue off royalty points while he's still in diapers. That's dope. Khaled might be getting even more royalties from a double disc though, so I suspect that's why nothing got trimmed before this one went into production. Anyway you're no doubt already familiar with the first single "Shining." Co-produced by DJ Khaled and Danja, the song features samples of "Walk the Way You Talk" by Dionne Warwick and coincidentally enough Osunlade's "Dionne." It's a thumping piece of dance club material right in the Khaled wheelhouse that features guest appearances from Beyonce and hubby Jay-Z (congratulations to both on†their own recent newborn twins†joining daughter Blue Ivy). It's a hot reminder that Shawn Carter is planning a new album for summer 2017."
PremRock & Fresh Kils ::†Leave In Tact - The Remix Collection†::†URBNET Records†
as reviewed by†Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Right away I'm amused by the coverart for "The Remix Collection" as it's a clear homage/parody of the "20th Century Masters" album series released by the Universal Music family of labels. You've probably walked by a bin full of these albums a dozen times at Best Buy or Walmart, always bargain priced (half or less of what most new albums retail for), invariably featuring what amounts to a "greatest hits" compilation for whatever artist is featured. I like to think of them as the kind of CD you would buy if your car didn't have an auxillary jack or Bluetooth connectivity for your smart phone, but only if you were already on a long road trip and incredibly bored with the compact discs you already played twice or more. They fill that incredibly small niche of "oh what the heck it's already five bucks and I need something else to listen to," but that niche must have been profitable because they sure did release a lot of these things over the years. There's a Heavy D. & the Boyz version of "20th Century Masters" that I've actually been meaning to check out as a tribute to the late great Overweight Lover, but for whatever reason I've never gotten around to it. Anyway†Mark will probably be confused†by the fact we're reviewing "The Remix Collection" instead of the "Leave In Tact" album it was spawned from. It really looks like I could go to Walmart and buy this PremRock album right now though, which makes it doubly depressing that I've never actually seen a PremRock album in†ANY†store. I think the only good ways to get a hard copy of PremRock's work is to either catch him on tour or†buy it directly from him on Bandcamp, though the fact he's now linked up with URBNET gives me hope that hard copies will be more easily available in the future. I couldn't find this one on Amazon, although†the aforementioned original album†was available. What you're about to read could in some respects become a reverse recommendation to go pick that up."
Public Enemy ::†Nothing Is Quick in the Desert†:: Public Enemy†
as reviewed by†Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Right now on the date of publication of this review, Public Enemy's†Nothing Is Quick in the Desert" is available as a free download. That timing is not a coincidence given it's the 4th of July a/k/a Independence Day in the U.S. of A. It's not guaranteed to be a free download in perpetuity though. If you want it free then celebrate your independence in the next 24 hours, but if you want to celebrate Public Enemy's independence as artists, wait until July 5th or after and pay for it. A recent listen to "Don't Believe the Hype" reminded me that Public Enemy predicted the rise of "fake news" long before social media existed or an insane man became President of the United States. If Carlton "Chuck D" Ridenhour still possesses that kind of prescience then we might all be doomed. It's not that you can't bop your head to the beats and rhymes of "Nothing," but from the artwork (which adds the subtitle "Except Death") to the lyrics of songs like "Beat Them All," it's pretty clear that Chuck's forecasting a grim future for AmeriKKKa going forward. A more optimistic take though would be that it's helpful for Chuck D to still be as angry in his 50's as he was in his 20's. Right now as we're being told that it's unpatriotic to read a newspaper, believe anyone other than Kellyanne Conway or Sean Spicer, or even believe that the very freedom of religion enshrined in our nation's Bill of Rights should apply to you whether you worship in a mosque or a church (or neither) it's†GOOD†to be angry. It's valuable to be pissed off at the situation this nation is facing. I'm not saying you should be angry about this state of affairs 24 hours a day non-stop, as that's probably a recipe for a heart attack, but a wake up call to be "ready to fight" for your basic rights feels very timely right now.†"Can you sing a song to save a life? In this time of +45+"†asks Chuck on "Toxic." Thanks to Chuck's deeply resonant baritone, his war weary voice still packs a powerful punch."
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