If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Macklemore's "Gemini" then do yourself a favor and check out the week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Macklemore :: Gemini
Author: Zach 'Goose' Gase
"Few have experienced the extreme highs and lows of the music industry like Macklemore. From 2010 to mid 2012, he was king of the underground, paying dues and filling up dive bars in college towns. After releasing "The Heist," his first full length project with producer Ryan Lewis, he crossover to the mainstream, scoring a pair of No. 1 hits and four Grammys. However, after winning a Grammy for Best Rap Album over Kendrick Lamar, he faced a lot of scrutiny and accusations of cultural appropriation. After keeping mostly a low profile. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis returned with their sophomore effort, "This Unruly Mess I've Made" in February 2016.The album was bloated with grand statements, overcooked arrangements and a sense that Macklemore obsessed over every line, thinking about what Twitter would say in response. The album's centerpiece "White Privilege II," while well intentioned and had an important message for his fanbase of soccer moms and suburban teenagers, was a critical failure. The album also underperformed commercially, and was mostly forgotten about in the months following its release. A little more than a year after releasing "Unruly Mess," Macklemore is back with a solo LP, titled "Gemini." Over the course of the album's 16 tracks, he sounds like he's having more fun and is less self-conscious, but his flaws as a rapper are as apparent as ever. Geminis are known for their versatility, and Macklemore certainly delivers a wide range of styles on his first solo LP since his self-released 2005 record "The Language of My World." But this lack of focus or theme is often a detriment to this record. Subject matter wise, Macklemore is no longer stumping for some political cause or social justice issue. Most of the songs fall in the realm of quirky braggadocio or uplifting proclamations. The Skyler Gray-assisted lead single, "Glorious," helped reintroduce Macklemore to the Hot 100 (peaking at No. 65), thanks in part to a simple, but effective chorus, and a viral-ready video of him celebrating his grandmother's 100th birthday. The jarring intro track "I Ain't Gonna Die Tonight" also falls within Macklemore's upbeat and positive lane, but is less effective due to poor sequencing and Eric Nally's eardrum destroying vocals in the opening seconds of the album."
Jidenna :: The Chief :: Wondaland/Epic Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"The distinction between hip-hop and R&B was much clearer when I was young. In fact it was so clear that I enjoyed it when "golden era" emcees made fun of singers, referring to the genre as "rhythm and bulls--t" among other derisive names. Rapping was always cooler to me. At first I didn't have the needed cognitive processes to break down why. I just enjoyed the sharper, more strident, more unapologetic edge of rap music. Later I began to articulate the differences in unnecessarily scientific ways. I'd point out that the word density of a rapped song was higher than one that was sung, and argue that rappers could tell better and more nuanced stories in the same amount of time than singers. This was a completely ridiculous point but it allowed me an undeserved sense of superiority for listening to a "more complex" genre of music, and I wore that chip on my shoulder like a shield as I got called unpleasant names for liking rap music. "Say what you want about me" said my ego, "because the music I like is simply better than yours." An older and hopefully less conceited version of 'Flash' writing to you today is willing to admit that R&B has its merits too. There's an emotional nuance to a sung vocal that can strike a chord, though the ability to touch your heart does not come to every singer, or every song that's sung would automatically make you weep. Singing and rapping are both talents that you might be born with, but they are also not talents that are effortlessly applied. Just like the NBA player who shoots a flawless three pointer, you don't see the thousands of hours he spent practicing to hit that beautiful arc that softly swishes through the net. Great artists from either genre spend a whole lot of time honing their craft. They perform in dingy clubs. They release free mixtapes. They try out different styles. It's a process that takes time, which is why people who make it overnight tend to disappear overnight as well. Those who put the effort into their craft aren't always rewarded (if they were then J-Live would be worth more millions than Birdman) but they should definitely be respected. Singing and rapping both have one thing in common with pimping -- it ain't easy."
Molecules/Showbiz :: A Bronx Tale :: D.I.T.C. Studios/Legion Records
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"Late last year A Tribe Called Quest set a record in rap by returning with a new album after an 18-year hiatus. The genre continues to set new milestones for itself as it progresses, but what we have here is a rather peculiar one. As advertised on the cover, "A Bronx Tale" is the 'Molecules From The Legion Solo Debut'. Now what you need be aware of in this case is that The Legion, at the time loosely affiliated with Native Tongues fringe group Black Sheep, have one regular album in their discography dating back to 1994. More recently the Bronx crew revisited their brief time on the scene by releasing old and new material, culminating in the "Lost Tapes" collection on Ill Adrenaline in 2014. Let's just say that in the big scheme of things a Molecules solo debut is not exactly what the world has been waiting for. Personally I'd be more excited to hear from long lost Coup member E-Roc, or from Leader of the New School Charlie Brown, or from Down South's Shawn J Period. In whose cases I still couldn't fail to note that their solo ventures would come roughly twenty years too late. But this is hip-hop, where you get recognized for what you do, not what you could have done. For "A Bronx Tale," whose 6 songs amount to an EP, Molecules hooked up with his BX brethren Showbiz of Showbiz & A.G. fame. Back in 1992, The Legion had their own interlude on "Runaway Slave," and, according to the "Theme + Echo = Krill" liner notes, in a distant past Molecules once went by the moniker Cutmaster Marvy D. So you know that in hip-hop Big Man 'Cules goes back like Robert De Niro and Chazz Palminteri's coming-of-age crime drama set in the '60s that "A Bronx Tale" borrows its name from. It also borrows a (slightly edited) monologue from the movie for its opening, including a crooning doo wop group, the like the film's youthful narrator identifies as having sung "on every corner, back then." But Molecules and Showbiz' "Bad Guy" (which also features Money Ray) switches over to 'Scarface' after the first verse, and the song's actual beat falls in line with the updated, sleak and sparse D.I.T.C. sound. The following "Good Life" intensifies the emotions with the kind of euphoric, soulful backdrop that ruled rap at the beginning of the 2000's. "My life is like a motion picture," boasts Molecules as he spins yarn about expensive cars, liquors and ladies."
Ravage :: Accusations of Treachery :: Configaration Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"I sometimes wonder what 80s and early 90s hip-hop sounds to teenagers today. Does it sound retro and somehow purer than the music of today, the way sixties and seventies soul sounds to me? Or does it sound hopelessly outdated, like how I feel about fifties doo-wop? I think about that when I listen to an artist like Ravage who is firmly rooted in 90s boom-bap hip-hop. Ravage isn't some kid who just discovered his dad's KRS-One records. He's been rapping since the late 80s, and was signed to Sony in the mid-90s. He went on his own in the 2000s, releasing his first official solo album in 2015, a full twenty years after entering the industry. "Accusations of Treachery" is his follow up. The motto of Ravage's label Configaration is "True School Music." That describes Ravage to a T. He is firmly rooted in Golden Era boom-bap, when rappers were rappers and Eric B. was president. We're talking rappity rapping over boom bap beats. Ten tracks, one producer (Tone Jonez), two features, no skits. Here's the thing though: it's a 40 something dude rapping instead of a 20 something dude, which means that the tone and content of the album is much different than you might expect from a boom-bap album. There's not a lot of macho posturing here. He's rapping about being scared of losing a loved one, ("I'm Scared"), feeling blessed and happy ("Grateful"), sobering up ("Drugs Don't Work"), and of course, the evils of the record industry ("Corporate Love"). In other words, grown man ish."
Syd :: Always Never Home :: The Internet/Columbia Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"This isn't the typical fare that I write about on RapReviews, but then again there's nothing typical about Sydney Bennett. She's the older sister of Odd Future collective member Taco. Even though he has a foundational role in the crew (early Odd Future demos were recorded at his home) I think of him more as a member of their now retired [adult swim] show "Loiter Squad" than as a rap star. I guess when you're in a crew with Tyler, The Creator, Frank Ocean and Hodgy Beats it's easy to be overshadowed anyway. That could easily have been the case for "Syd Tha Kid" as well. Thanks to Odd Future spinoff group The Internet though, Syd's profile as a singer, producer and songwriter started to rise to the level of stardom in her own right. Even though we (like the Geto Boys) don't give a damn about Grammys, "Ego Death" got nominated for one and took Syd's profile to another plateau, as did profile pieces everywhere from Rolling Stone to The Guardian. To Syd's regret many of those articles focused on her sexuality, which unfortunately became an easy topic due to Tyler's flippant use of homophobic language on her solo albums, but her talent is undeniable. The recent release of "Always Never Home" is a follow-up to February's full length album "Fin," and it's my plan to get to that one too, but I decided to tackle the more recent release first. Syd opens the album with the sultry "Moving Mountains," produced by Anonxmous with an obvious emphasis on funky electronic bass. It pairs well with Syd's anxious vocals, pleading with a lover to show her more respect, feeling she's literally moved heaven and Earth to show her loyalty and dedication."
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