Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2018...So Far

What's happening folks! We are seven months into 2018, and BOY what a year it's been thus far.  This has been an incredible year already.  It can be argued that this has been one of the strongest first-half years in...well...years.  There have been very few missteps so far, and albums from Evidence, Skyzoo, Pusha T, and Westside Gunn have all dropped albums that could be labeled as 'career definers'.  Others such as J. Cole, Flatbush Zombies delivered projects that were considered ambitious yet highly promising.  This has been a fun year, and we're only halfway done.  With that being said, let's get into the top twenty albums of the year as of right now.

20. Apathy
The Widow's Son
Production: artist, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Nottz, Buckwild, Stu bangas, others

Connecticut emcee Apathy is consistently known for his hard-hitting rhymes over no-fucks-given type production.  Since his simply excellent debut, Eastern Philosophy, we've heard him not afraid to be personal, while still giving us vicious rhymes.  His latest offering, The Widow's Son, continues that roll that he's on with slicing production provided by heavyweights such as Premo and Pete Rock and reminding people why he's been one of the champions of the underground for years now.  If no frills, boom bap hip-hop is your cup of tea, accept no substitutes.

19. Chuck Strangers
Consumers Park
Production: artist, Kirk Knight, The Alchemist, Statik Selektah, others

What would a year be without Pro Era? The highly talented NYC collective headed by fiery mic spitter Joey Bada$$ is among the most respected crews in the game right now, and while we've had releases from Bada$$, along with the likes of emcee/producer Kirk Knight (Late Knight Special), Nyck Caution (Disguise The Limit), and CJ Fly (Thee Way Eye See It and Flytrap), we hadn't heard anything from fellow emcee/producer Chuck Strangers.  That changed in 2018 as he dropped his long-awaited debut, Consumers Park, and it could truthfully be considered among the strongest releases out the camp.  Chuck shows his old soul knack for keeping mid-nineties NYC hip-hop alive, showing he clearly doesn't give a damn about today's trends.  In fact he shits on them.  With efforts like this, Pro Era's notoriety will continue to grow and grow and grow.

18. Saba
Production: artist, DaedaePivot

Often times we see artists construct some of their greatest material through sadness, tragedy, or anger.  Examples like 2Pac's classic, Me Against The World, or Royce 5'9''s Death Is Certain are drenched in reflection, anger, and introspection, if not flat out depression.  For Chi-town emcee Saba, it was his cousin who got stabbed for a coat.  All the emotions that he had been trying to examine since his last very decent Bucket List Project all come to play on his latest effort CARE FOR ME.  Tracks like the powerful "Prom/King", "Heaven All Around Me", and "Fighter" are all cuts that exemplify a young man trying to find peace among the chaos, even if the odds are seemingly greatly against him doing so.  It's hard not to root for this young man with such a melancholy sounding, yet highly enjoyable, release for one of the Chi's next up.

17. PRhyme
PRhyme 2
Production: DJ Premier, Antman Wonder

Royce 5'9" and DJ premier are a tag team made for the hip-hop squared circle.  Their debut self-titled EP was simply the fire we knew it would be.  An overall flawless effort, the only complaint was that it was too short.  They made up for that with PRhyme 2, their follow-up album, and this time, it contains seventeen tracks of flavor.  The sound is a bit different due to them using Antman Wonder for the samples instead of the previously used Adrien Younge.  Nonetheless, this album contains sincere bangers in the form of cuts like "Do Your Thang", "My Calling", and "Rock it".  With sizzling guest appearances from the likes of Dave East, Rapsody, Cee-Lo, and Roc Marciano, PRhyme struck again with a sick album that screams of a three-for-three trilogy.

16. Black Milk
Production: artist

Detroit's Black Milk has been out of the booth for about four years, which is when he delivered his incredible sixth album, If There's A Hell Below. Save for his joint albums with his band Nat Turner in 2016, he's been relatively on the low in terms of recording.  However, that changed with the release of his seventh album, fever, which is an overall upbeat, funky, BM-esque return to form that's very reminiscent of his albums Tronic and Album Of The Year.  Mixing social commentary with political dabblings over fresh live instrumentation, Milk holds the intrigue factor quite substantially.  With Fever, Curtis Cross is back and heavily welcomed with this excellent return album.

15. Roc Marciano
RR2: The Bitter Dose
Production: artist, others

Strong Island's Roc Marciano is slowly becoming one of the game's more in-demand emcees.  Basically delivering at least an effort a year, he's been wearing out mics on his own since his thunderous debut, Marcberg, in 2010.  Clearly aiming to bring NY back to its raw essence, Marciano has delivered some of the decade's most slick and soulful projects, mixed with brooding, vivid imagery.  He continues this with the sequel to 2017's Rosebudd's Revenge, RR2: The Bitter Dose.  Picking up exactly where Rosebudd's Revenge left off, both thematically and musically, Marciano crafted an album that exudes respect and the art of the hustle.  Always keeping it gully, RR2 shows that there's a method behind his hustle, and once you get it, you'll see why Marci is running laps around a lot of your favorite emcees.

14. Jay Rock
Production: Sounwave, Boi-1nda, Mike WILL Made It, Jake One, Terrace Martin, others

The "shooter" of the TDE camp, Jay Rock, is back with his exciting follow-up to his simply fantastic 2015 effort, 90059, with the appropriately entitled, Redemption.  After surviving a nearly fatal accident in 2017, this serves as a testament to his survival in more ways than one.  Arguably his most complete album to date, Rock lets us in through each type of emotion there is, while boldly standing firm on his ability to be fearless, even in the face of death.  From instant club smashers like "Win" to super deep cuts like "Broke +", Jay Rock starts off the album vengeful, but ends the album on top, which puts more emphasis into the saying, "It ain't how you start, it's how you finish". Redemption, indeed.

13. Pusha T
Production: Kanye West

It's been about three years since we last heard from the now president of G.O.O.D. Music, Terrance "Pusha T" Thornton.  His efforts post-Clipse have been overall very dope, from his hot debut, My Name Is My Name to the even hotter Darkest Before Dawn.  Now in 2018, his boss, Kanye, decided to scrap the efforts made on King Push to focus on his seven track effort, DAYTONA, and truthfully, this serves as Pusha's best project yet.  Focused on coke and revenge more so than any other effort he's done since and his brother No Malice dissolved Clipse, Pusha is in complete, full demand on this album.  Thanks to Kanye, the production brought out an animal in Pusha, and gave us his official magnum opus.

12. Elzhi & Khrysis
Jericho Jackson
Production: Khrysis

Detroit's rhyme pugilist, Elzhi, is very well known for his time with Slum Village, but he gained a bigger audience once he stepped out and delivered his phenomenal album, The Preface.  Returning after a five year absence with the melancholy Lead Poison, the question was asked, "where was his fire at?" We got our answer with Jericho Jackson, a collaborative effort between him NC beatkicker Khrysis.  Khrysis, known for his work with The Soul Council, is among the most hard-working producers around, and he gave Elzhi some of his best beats since The Preface.  Elzhi shows his pen still got it with cuts like "Self Made" and "Listen".  This album is a hip-hopper's delight with two truly talented architects of their craft delivering a truly solid effort.

11. J. Cole
Production: artist, T-Minus, others

After knocking two straight unbelievable efforts out the park with 2014 Forest Hills Dr. and 4 Your Eyez Only, Jermaine Cole decided to go a little left with his 2018 effort, K.O.D.  Although polarizing, Cole got his point across in somewhat unconventional fashion.  The concept deals with choices and making wise decisions, whether it be with health, money, love, or the like, Cole went off kilter in style and themes in order to make you feel his perspective, and it worked.  While initially everyone didn't get this change in style, the more one listened, the more it became apparent with cuts like the title track, "Meditate", "ATM", and especially "1985", J. Cole is a clever genius and dropped a heavy one on us that we didn't even know was that heavy until we reflected on it.  Cole is something special folks.

10. Black Thought & 9th Wonder
Streams Of Thought Vol. 1
Production: 9th Wonder & The Soul Council

It was obvious when Black Thought DESTROYED Funk Flex's booth during a freestyle session that Thought is on a whole nother level from your average emcee.  Capitalizing off this god-like spitting, famed Grammy Award-winning producer 9th Wonder teamed up with the Roots frontman to drop Streams Of Thought Vol. 1, an EP filled with Thought wrecking the mic with ferocity we haven't heard in years over some of 9th's coldest boardwalk.  What was essentially a hip-hop fan's wet dream came true with these two masters of their craft coming together, and this was just hip-hop. No frills, just the realness, and if Thought wasn't, or isn't, on your GOAT list, what the fuck is wrong with you???

9. Phonte
No News Is Good News
Production: Marco Polo, Nottz, others

Durham, NC's lyrical journeyman, Phonte Coleman, is truly a gifted talent in the game.  Utilizing his R&B/Soul gifts for his group with producer Nicolay as The Foreign Exchange, people tend to forget he's can get it in on the mic too and shows and proves on his second solo album, No News Is Good News.  Phonte is known for generally making music for the everyman.  The average blue-collar emcee is Phonte, and his music reflects this, as he touches on subjects that range from the loss of his father ("Expensive Genes") to being a second time husband (my personal hip-hop cut of the year "Sweet You").  Much like his previous effort, Charity Starts At Home, this new effort shows Phonte being vulnerable, humorous, and battle hungry all in one album.  With No News..., Phonte is at his witty, transparent best.

8. Evidence
Weather Or Not
Production: artist, The Alchemist, Nottz, DJ Premier, Twiz, Babu, Budgie

Cali's residential "weatherman", Evidence, has gone through a lot over the last few years.  From the loss of his mother to changing labels to his wife battling cancer and he himself struggling with depression and anxiety, Evidence knows what it's like to go through his own storm.  He touches on all of these and more on his third solo full-length effort, Weather Or Not.  Following up on his excellent sophomore album, Cats & Dogs, Ev glides through his world of unfortunate distractions from his ultimate destination of peace.  This project is gripping yet shows Ev is as blue collar as anyone trying to dream big.  It could be argued that with cuts like "To Make A Long Story Longer", "Love Is A Funny Thing", "Rain Drops", and "Jim Dean" that this can be argued as his most cohesive piece of work to date. Ever a hero of underground, tried and true boom bap hip-hop, Ev once again gives us the blueprint of devoted, uncompromising music.

7. Conway The Machine
The Blakk Tape EP
Production: Daringer

Is there a more grimy emcee out spitting right now than Buffalo's Conway?  In a word, no.  In two words, hell no.  Griselda's Machine has collected body after body after body with each release he drops, whether they're mixtapes or full-length albums.  His 2017 full-length, G.O.A.T., showed even more why Conway should be considered among the meanest emcees out spitting.  In preparation for his Griselda/Shady Records debut, he delivers The Blakk Tape, possibly an ever more gutter project than G.O.A.T.  Nihilistic and full of rage, Conway shows no mercy to those who cross him and gives warning shots throughout the effort.  His lone moment of introspection lies with "Pavement", an ode to deceased homies including the late Prodigy.  Otherwise, this effort is not for the weak.

6. Royce 5'9"
The Book Of Ryan
Production: DeNaun Porter, S-1, !llmind, Frank Dukes, DJ Khalyl, Boi-1nda, StreetRunner, others

For nearly two decades, Ryan Montgomery has been obliterating mics and earning the status of being called "the most complete emcee in the business".  Repping the Motor City with high levels of distinction, Royce 5'9" drops his undoubted most personal effort ever, The Book Of Ryan.  Not since his sophomore gem of an album, Death Is Certain, have we heard him so transparent.  While his 2017 effort, Layers, was a great introduction into peeling back different levels of him, we get the whole back story of Royce in painful and at times courageous transparency.  We already know he can rhyme a hole in through a brick wall, but he was more in tune with his story than his lyrical wizardry.  With The Book Of Ryan, this was the project we had been waiting on from him, and he delivered with the album of his career.

5. Skyzoo
In Celebration Of Us
Production: !llmind, Apollo Brown, Daringer, others

Brooklyn's Skyzoo is an emcee's emcee.  He can lyrically outrap most of your favorite emcees plus has a discography that is among the most impressive currently out.  While full-length albums like The Salvation, Music For My Friends, and his collab album with producer !llmind, Live From The Tape Deck, are without question some of his most prized efforts, he reaches a new level with In Celebration Of Us.  Sky touches upon social issues and touches political themes as well occasionally.  This is a project meant to examine our communities and our struggles.  Our highs and lows, and Sky handles himself brilliantly throughout.  In the age of forty-five and #BlackLivesMatter, it's great to see an emcee of this much talent put these things to the forefront in perhaps the most important effort of his career.

4. Nas
Production: Kanye West

What can be said about Nasir Jones that hasn't been said before? Yes, he's a legend.  Yes, he completely put lyricism on an entire new level.  Yes, he's the creator of arguably the greatest hip-hop album to ever exist.  With over two decades in the game and still not stopping, it's only right that he comes into 2018 finally dropping his much anticipated album, NASIR.  Completely handled by Kanye with only seven tracks, Nas reminds us of his greatness in various ways.  Whether he's reminding us of what real news versus fake news really is on "Not For Radio" or relaying the police brutality/murders crisis on the Slick Rick-flipped "Cops Shot The Kid", Nas is aware he's an elder statesman, which means his message has to remain relevant.  With NASIR, not only does he do that effectively, he spits over some of the most meaningful production of his career.

3. Kanye West & Kid Cudi
Kids See Ghosts
Production: Kanye West

Back in 2009, Kid Cudi gave us a taste of how magical the chemistry he and Kanye could have together with his stellar debut, Man On The Moon.  We hadn't heard anything else from the two of them together since.  There was even a brief beef between them.  ironing out their differences, they return together for a whole project called Kids See Ghosts, and without question, this is the best project Cudi has done ion years.  Many feel this is the album Kanye should've made for his album 'Ye, but be that as it may, these two make discussing their internal and mental issues sound not only relatable, but empowering.  One can only imagine just how much more solid this album would be if there were only a few more tracks.  Hopefully that will happen sooner than later.

2. Westside Gunn
Supreme Blientele
Production: Daringer, The Alchemist, 9th Wonder, Pete Rock, Harry Fraud, Statik Selektah, Sahdu Gold, others

The head honcho of the red hot Griselda Records outta Buffalo is Westside Gunn.  His crew of himself, Conway, B.E.N.N.Y. and El Camino have been catching bodies for about a decade but is now gaining so much shine, he and Conway got signed to Shady.  In 2016, Griselda hit a pivotal point with Gunna's thug classic, FLYGOD.  Among the grittiest releases in years, he drops perhaps his final indie album before his Shady debut in Supreme Blientele (aka Chris Benoit aka God Is The Greatest).  Whenever you name your album loosely after one of the craziest albums of the 00's, you're expected to deliver pretty highly, and that WSG does well.  His grimy-esque flow is put to the forefront alongside heavyweights like Jadakiss, Busta Rhymes, Roc Marciano, and his labelmates of B.E.N.N.Y. and Conway.  This has such a feel of the mid to late nineties in all its visceral, gutter aura that it's almost teary-eyed beautiful in its own nihilistic way.  Stating that he's always for the culture, Gunna has presented one of the year's most insane releases, and quite honestly it's albums like this why we see why Griselda caught they eye of Em.

1. August Greene
August Greene
Production: artist

There's no disputing Common is a legend in the game.  In 2016, he dropped one of his best and most important releases with Black America Again.  The production was handled primarily by Detroit producer/drummer Kareem Riggins and Grammy Award-winning pianist extraordinaire Robert Glaspar to construct some of the most delightful sounds of his two decade long career.  These three men decided to come together to become the group August Greene, and they released their debut self-titled album.  This folks is just a musical experience.  We all knew Common was gonna bring it lyrically, and he did, but the musicianship of Glaspar and Riggins, combined with vocal guests like Simora Penderhughes, Brandy, and Bilal, made this album as much a Divine listen as BAA if not more.  Clearly going for the grown folk or the grown in spirit, this album is truly music for the mind and soul.  Breathtaking selections like the INCREDIBLE remake of Sounds Of Blackness' famed "Optimistic", "Meditation", and "Black Kennedy" all represent what August Greene is about: soul food.  This album sets another benchmark in the outstanding career of Lonnie Rashid Lynn.

Honorable Mentions

Flatbush Zombies- Vacation In Hell
The Alchemist- Lunch Meat EP
PAC Div- First Baptist
Jean Grae & Quelle Chris- Everything's Fine
Jedi Mind Tricks- The Bridge & The Abyss
Sean Price & Illa Ghee- Metal Detectors EP
Earthgang- Royalty EP
Czarface & MF DOOM- Czarface Meets Metal Face
Freddie Gibbs- Freddie
Tierra Whack- Whack World
Cardi B- Invasion of Privacy
The Carters- Everything Is Love
Nippsy Hussle- Victory Lap
Logic- Bobby Tarentino II
Styles P- G-Host
Camp Lo- Candy Land Xpress (mixtape)
Bishop Nehru- Elevators: Scene I & II
Kooley High- Never Come Down
Various Artists- Black Panther OST
Apollo Brown & Locksmith- No Question
Kanye West- 'Ye

With 2018 already this searing, it may only get better, and that's the scary part.  There are projects still to come from Chance The Rapper & Kanye, Redman, Conway's Griselda/Shady debut, B.E.N.N.Y., Bun B, DJ Muggs, Dave East, ScHoolboy Q, and Earthgang's full-length Dreamville debut among many others.  Stay strapped in folks, this ride is only half over! until next time kiddies!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Happy 20th: MP Da Last Don

What's the deal ladies and gents?! This salute goes to a rapper/entrepreneur that is among the most successful rags to riches stories to ever be seen within hip-hop and music in general.  Coming from the Calliope PJs in New Orleans, this man had basically seen and done it all in the streets. He brought a new sound from the south that was different from the soulful, bluesy stylings of the likes of UGK, Outkast, or Eightball & MJG.  This was almost a pre-trap type sound we were getting from this label thanks to their production team, Beats By The Pound, and they almost heavily relied on sampling and reworking original songs and turning them into some of the most hood-sounding cuts you could imagine.  This man not only brought up a bunch of his homies and family members into stardom, but officially put New Orleans on the map on a nationwide, mainstream level, and eventually became one of the most talked about artists in the game.  In '98, he delivered what would be his biggest selling album and put him into America's consciousness as a big time player.  This is Master P, and we salute his double album, MP Da Last Don.

Since '91, Percy "Master P" Miller has been a fixture in southern hip-hop.  His pre-major label distribution albums of Get Away Clean, Mama's Bad Boy, and The Ghetto's Tryin' To Kill Me were fixtures within the underground and made people talk more and more about him, as well as his TRU click (brothers C-Murder and Silkk Tha Shocker, Mia X, King George, the late Big Ed, and others).  When he struck a distribution deal with Priority Records, it slowly meant going all the way up.  First up was the cult classic, 99 Ways To Die, which had him slightly cleaning up the production, yet keeping it undoubtedly street.  Miller was finding his niche.

However, in '96, he dropped his breakout album, Ice Cream Man, and it became his calling card.  Delivering the anthem "Bout It Bout It II" (the sequel to the hard as nails original "I'm Bout It, Bout It" from the TRU album, True), the title track, "No More Tears", and the UGK-assisted "Break 'Em Off Something".  Followers of No Limit knew this album was about to put him on a higher level, and things were about to change.  With the first taste of gold for the label (it would later go platinum years later), his next solo album would come in the form of '97's Ghetto D, in which he officially became a star.  the album went triple platinum and solidified him as a legit somebody in the game, helping to place the south among the elite of hip-hop.

With the ever growing success of No Limit Records (a few artists went gold without so much as a single or video from their albums), The head of No Limit delivered his seventh album, MP Da Last Don.  Following up the runaway success of Ghetto D was going to be hard, but Miller had it under control.  With his singles of "Make 'Em Say Ughh II" , "Goodbye To My Homies", and the highly infectious club hit "Hot Boys & Girls", Master P was in line to this becoming yet another huge success, and it was.  The double album sold quadruple platinum units, and became his biggest selling album.  Most double albums are not the most consistent, but this one definitely was.  Guests such as Bone Thugs N Harmony, UGK and the rest of his No Limit Soldiers (this includes a newly signed Snoop at this time) greatly contributed to this effort and only elevated the stature of No Limit even more.

From this point, P didn't quite achieve this level of success or acclaim as subsequent albums such as Ghetto Postage, Game Face, and Only God Can Judge Me didn't measure up to his prior projects.  At this time, No Limit was going through a transition period that wasn't easy, as the other New Orleans click, Cash Money Records, were starting to take over the New Orleans scene.  Coupled with the death of TRU original Big Ed, the incarcerations of Mac and C-Murder, and more and more artists leaving the label, Master P was almost an island to himself.  However, this isn't a woe-is-me piece.  This is a salute to how strong No Limit Records was in the mid to late nineties, and MP Da Last Don was at the front of the charge for the label.  Defining albums such as the I'm Bout It soundtrack, Unlady Like, Charge It 2 Da Game, Life Or Death, and Life Insurance are all projects that are easily identified as some of the best efforts No Limit put out, but it was the commander-in-chief that brought the label into prominence, and MP Da Last Don was the shining example of their influence not just in the south, but hip-hop as a whole.  With that, let's toast to Master P's MP Da Last Don and its twentieth year of dopeness.

Happy 20th: The Love Movement

What's good everyone? This salute goes to a group widely considered the most influential hip-hop group of all-time.  Considering the likes of De La Soul, Wu-Tang, Outkast, and EPMD, that's a monstrous statement, but it has a lot of validity.  Bringing forth arguably the greatest trilogy of albums to ever exist in hip-hop, these three Queens natives introduced a jazzy, b-boy like style in the early nineties to where it eventually crossed over to them becoming so universally admired and respected.  Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and the trio broke up, and the blow was unfathomably more painful with the loss of one its members.  This group recorded their final album together as a group while all members were alive and the album was an excellent sendoff to hip-hop globally loved heroes.  This is a salute to A Tribe Called Quest and their fifth album, The Love Movement.

In '90, two young emcees from Queens, Q-Tip The Abstract and Phife Dawg got up with fellow Queens native DJ/producer Ali Shaheed Muhammed and b-boy/emcee Jairobi White to comprise A Tribe Called Quest, an Afrocentric, bohemian group that focused on Black empowerment, positivity, the love of hip-hop, and overall just having fun over mostly jazzy production and stylings.  Their debut album, People's Instinctive Travels In The Paths Of Rhythm, was nothing less than a joyous musical experience that we hadn't heard quite like anything before.  Loved songs such as "Can I kick It", "I Left My Wallet In El Segundo", and the b-boy charms of "Bonita Applebum" helped define the album and was hailed as an immediate classic.  If it was even possible, they followed that up with an even better album in The Low End Theory.  One of the true landmarks in hip-hop and music overall, this album delved more into jazz samplings, some live instrumentation, and stepped-up lyricism, especially from the "Five Foot Assassin" himself.  Honorary member Busta Rhymes hailed it as "the perfect hip-hop album", and it's not an outlandish claim whatsoever. Famous cuts like "Check the Rhime", "Buggin' Out", "Jazz (We Got)", and one of hip-hop's most impactful posse cuts, "Scenario" with Leaders Of the New School, brought this beyond epic album to meteoric acclaimed heights.  Just when you thought they couldn't possibly match this brilliance, they reemerge in '93 with Midnight Marauders, a slightly more stripped down, sample-heavy album that was their first taste in more mainstream appeal thanks to cuts like "Award Tour" and "Electric Relaxation".  This album officially declared them as hip-hop's most ambitious and ingenious trio.  They were simply on fire.

However, tensions within the group were starting to show, and the resulting fourth album, Beats, Rhymes, and Life was delivered.  Darker than their previous efforts, it was also the first album that Q-Tip and Ali collaborated with Detroit producer Jay Dee (later known as the legendary J Dilla) to become The Ummah.  The production, although darker somewhat, was still a very dope album and one that truthfully doesn't get enough props. Another gold plaque for them was in the midst of this turmoil and continued to show them as one of the game's most important acts.  With all the tension and all the volatility, the group decided to call it quits, but not before releasing their fifth and (at the time) final album, The Love Movement.

While it was missing that charm that made their first three albums part of hip-hop immortality, this was still a very pleasing and enjoyable album.  Sounding more upbeat than Beats, Rhymes, and Life, this was more of a celebration of what they had accomplished as a group, and was catapulted by the highly infectious first single "Find A Way", which many consider among their best singles.  Listening to other cuts like "Like It Like That", "Steppin' It Up" with Busta and Redman, "Give Me" with N.O.R.E., "Pad & Pen", and "4 Moms", you would never think the group was ending and this was their curtain call.  No matter what anyone says, this was far from a mediocre project.  Although you knew the truth about the group breaking up, when you were listening, it was still an unequivocal Tribe album.  Q-Tip sounded as fresh as ever and Phife was still that five foot assassin.  The production from The Ummah was consistently solid and went against the commercialism and excess that the late nineties provided, much like similar acts such as Mos Def, Kweli, De La Soul, and Pharoahe Monch during this time period.

We were exalted to the high heavens when the word came out that, just months after the unfortunate death of Phife from Diabetes complications, Tip would reunite with Jairobi and honorary members Busta and Consequence (Ali was doing production and scoring duties for the Netflix movie, Marvel's Luke Cage during this time thus making him unable to contribute) to bring forth their true last album, We Got It From Here...Thank You For Your Service, with a few posthumous verses from the late Phife.  The album was an exhilarating return and, although bittersweet, was wonderful to get that old Tribe vibe again, with an updated sound, complete with guests such as Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000, and Anderson.Paak.  However, with The Love Movement, what was originally supposed to be their final album became their second-to-last effort, and the album was fun and very delightful.  An album like The Love Movement would be so exciting and needed in today's times, with an emphasis of love, respect, admiration, and celebrations of life without sounding hokey or corny.  This was still Tribe.  This was still all the way hip-hop.  We wouldn't want it or have it any other way.  With that, happy twentieth to perhaps the greatest hip-hop group to ever exist and their fifth effort, The Love Movement.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Happy 20th: Extinction Level Event

What's good fam?! This next salute goes to one of hip-hop's most prolific artists.  This "dungeon dragon" is considered a rightful legend in the game and among the most influential to ever touch a mic.  His animated and original rah-rah style (though Redman would possibly take exception to that claim) has reached a couple of generations and his passion for hip-hop is unrelenting.  His third album came on the heels of two huge albums that made him a household name. It was this album, however, that made him worldwide.  A phenom is the only way to describe this emcee, and he wears that distinction with pride.  We salute the mighty infamous Busta Rhymes and his third album, Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front.

We had known about Trevor Smith since his days with Dinco D, Milo, and Charli Brown as Leaders Of the New School, who delivered cuts such as "Another Case of The P.T.A." and "What's Next".  It was his iconic and career-defining verse on A Tribe Called Quest's legendary cut "Scenario" that really made people pay attention to the Long Island native.  Before too long L.O.N.S. broke up due to internal beefing between he and Charli, but Busta's star was clearly about to shine, as he was doing multiple guests appearances with artists such as Craig Mack, Method Man, and even Boyz II Men.  When the announcement came that his debut was about to drop, the hype was highly apparent.  He finally dropped the anthemic "Woo Hah! Got You All In Check" in '96 to lead off his highly anticipated debut album, The Coming.  A gold album, Busta was officially in and more than just the rah-rah kid from L.O.N.S. that could own any cut he appeared on.  he showed he could more than hold his own with a super impressive debut.

He upped the ante with what many believe to be his crossover album, When Disaster Strikes, as this absolutely fantastic sophomore album   Led by the singles "Dangerous" and "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See", the album was overall a little darker than his debut but also this was more commercially accessible as well.  Selling platinum units, Busta was earning more and more of a following and becoming an icon in the making, clearly knowing the formula for what a hit record should like.  Mixing apocalyptic themes with wanting to party until the last days, Busta showed his star appeal was only rising.

Still possessing the hunger of that nineteen year-old from L.O.N.S., he wanted to continue the theme of the coming end of the world with Extinction Level Event.  Billed as the last of the apocalyptic trilogy, this album easily rivaled When Disaster Strikes on so many levels.  The album was primarily driven by his first single "Gimme Some More" and the sultry R&B-tinged duet with Janet Jackson "What's It Gonna Be".  Knowing the essential formula for mixing the streets with the clubs and even something for the ladies, Busta knew the importance of appealing to everyone, and did it in abundance with this release.  While cuts like the title track, "Everybody Rise", and "Against All Odds" were cuts mostly for the cats in their jeeps and "Do the Bus-A-Bus" and "Hot Shit Making You Bounce" were club heaters, perhaps the most talked about cut was the simply frenzied collab with then-No limit solider Mytiskal, "Iz They Wylin' With Us & Gettin' Rowdy With us", as these two are double and triple-timing their rhymes in break neck speed over an animated and hyperspeed track that  your average listener couldn't quite decipher in terms of lyrics.  The chemistry, however, was visible and was like a marriage in Twista heaven.

With E.L.E., Busta Rhymes earned more Grammy nominations and even more acclaim as an artist that the world was really starting to embrace more and more.  Busta became a star with When Disaster Strikes, but became even more so with this album.  With this being his second straight platinum album, Busta was one of the hottest acts in the world at this point.  While later albums such as Genesis, Anarchy, and The Big Bang further solidified Busta as a legend in hip-hop (we'll ignore hiccups like Back On My B.S.), E.L.E. was another platinum example of the staying power Bus-A-Bus had, and he is still to this day, that same dungeon dragon.  Happy twentieth anniversary to Extinction Level Event.

Happy 20th: Don Cartagena

What's happening folks?! This next twentieth anniversary salute goes to an album that helped define this Puerto Rockin's career. Going off the momentum of his best friend and labelmate's historic platinum run, this album helped him and his crew, Terror Squad, hit yet another new level.  Practically from top to bottom, this was a smash, and it was the official beginning of this plus-pound emcee's crossover success.  This is our salute to Fat Joe and his third album, Don Cartagena.

We first heard Fat Joe as Fat Joe Da Gangsta, part of the legendary D.I.T.C. ( Diggin' In The Crates crew for those not in the know).  His debut album, Represent, was almost solely produced by Diamond, with production appearances by Showbiz as well.  It was modestly received and acclaimed, even with the rugged cuts "Flow Joe" and "The Shit Is Real".  With a very in-your-face delivery and unfiltered, raw lyricism, Joe was on the radar of underground heads.  It was his next album, Jealous Ones Envy, that more people started to pay attention to him.  Eventually going gold, this album was a bit more polished around the edges, as evidenced by bangers like "Success", the Raekwon-assisted "Respect Mine", and the lead single "Envy", which was his attempt at a crossover hit.  Definitely a step up from his debut, you could tell there was a whole lot more promise in the Bronx native.

With the emergence and glass ceiling smashing of his homeboy Big Pun and his simply incredible debut album (read: classic), Capital Punishment, Joe wanted to keep that energy going with his own third album, Don Cartagena.  Definitely aiming to blend more radio and club bangers with the street appeal that had been garnering his steady following, this was his make or break album, and it worked and hit on all cylinders.  This was likely the album Joe was meant to make, as the debut title track single featured a shit-talking P-Diddy on the hook and showed that he was officially back and better than ever.  Once the album dropped, and the opening track "Crack Attack" hit, we knew this would be perhaps his best work yet.  The album literally got better the more tracks you heard.  Very much like his compadre Pun, he had cuts for the club ("Bet Ya Man Can't" featuring a slick Pun and an infectious verse from TS member Triple Seis, the Charli Baltimore-assisted "Walk On By") and the streets with venomous cuts like the dark "Hidden Hand", "Misery Needs Company", the sick "Find Out", and the Premo-powered "Dat Gangsta Shit".

This wasn't a flawless album, however, as "Walk On By" wasn't the hit it may have been aiming for and the Bone Thugs N Harmony-assisted "Good Times" was good-natured and definitely meant well, but with the hard, grimy face you tend to make listening to the majority of the album, it seemed out of place.  Overall, this album was Joe's most cohesive and complete piece of work and officially made him a mainstream star.  While other albums such as J.O.S.E. ( his first platinum album), All Or Nothing, The Darkside Vols. 1, 2 and 3, Loyalty, and Me, Myself, & I all cemented Joe's name into the commercially accessible area and brought him worldwide fans, Don Cartagena has to be considered his first official smash album that prompted his string of highly accessible efforts.  Not to mention, it can be very much argued that Don Cartagena may his best work overall ever.  We'll leave that up to you.  Happy twentieth anniversary to Joe's Don Cartagena.

Happy 20th: First Family 4 Life

What's the deal kind fam?! This salute goes to two no-nonsense Brownsville bullies that had been wylin' out for about four years at that time.  These fellas brought you their dose of rawness with "How About Some Hardcore" then became a Firing Squad.  Then came '98 when they were officially First Fam and this album was a scorcher that put them one step closer to more mainstream notoriety while being unapologetic and uncompromising with their sound.  These riot starters played no games with this album and delivered an effort more than worthy of a salute.  This is a salute to M.O.P. and their third full-length album, First Family 4 Life.

Dear God! Two Brooklynites named Billy Danz and Lil' Fame were loud, domineering, lyrically brutal, and gave a middle finger what you thought about them.  They delivered a sound that perfectly reflected the craziness and aggressiveness last heard from the likes of Black Moon with their eponymous debut album, Enta Da Stage.  We also got introduced to three rambunctious Queens stick-up kids named Onyx who had  also become the new faces of the loud, aggressive, Black mosh pit sound thanks to their debut album, Bacdafucup, and their worldwide smash single "Slam".  The duo known as the Mashed Out Posse, or M.O.P., were the Brooklyn version of them, but maybe a little more rugged.  Their debut album, To The Death, was a decent debut that was solely produced by DR period, the man behind the severely slept-on debut by Smoothe Da Hustler, Once Upon A Time In America, and even M.O.P.'s later huge smash "Ante Up".

These two young (at the time) Brownsvillains were on the radar of hardcore purists, but we were wondering what else was next for them and would it be the next level for them.  With their sophomore album, Firing Squad, this was more polished, but definitely still as gutter as one could imagine.  This time with more influence from DJ Premier, Jaz-O, and Laze, this album was simply bananas.  One of the most grittiest albums you would hear during this particular era, M.O.P. weren't the guys you would necessarily see on Billboard for any accessible-sounding radio cut whatsoever.  This was simply RAW.  With the only guest appearance going to the legendary Kool G. Rap on the blistering "Stick II Ya Gunz", this left room for Fame and Danz to show more of their own flexing and ability to make the listener bring out the inner stick-up goon in them.

However, in '98, they caught the attention of Jay-Z, thanks in part to Jaz-O working with them on the aforementioned Firing Squad and him turning Jay on to them.  Jay was on top of the world at this time with his unbelievable Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life album, and he ended blessing them with a verse on the lead single to their forthcoming album, First Family 4 Life, "4 Alarm Blaze", which conveniently sampled the old eighties hard rock anthem "Eye Of The Tiger".  This was just a small sampling of what to expect from this album.  With the emergence of Hov on their lead single, the obvious attempt was to reach them to a bigger audience without compromising their sound of ghetto thrash rap.  Although not quite the surreal, gutter soundtrack that Firing Squad was, don't get it twisted AT ALL. These two delivered a bomb of an album that was explosive from the jump with the Premo-laced "Breakin' The Rules", followed up by other crazy cuts such as "My Kinda Nigga Pt. 2" featuring Heather B, "Downtown Swinga '98", the riot-inducing "I Luv" with fellow fight-channeling emcee Bumpy Knuckles, and "Face Off".  If you were looking for filler on here, the only small inkling of one was the Fame interlude.  Folks, that's it.  None other.  This was an album that should've been packaged with shell casings and some Tylenol for your pounding head and neck.

With First Family 4 Life, they stepped their overall sound up without sacrificing who they were and the spirit that got them their ever growing fan base.  Radio was cool, but not if it was worth selling their souls or their art.  This was a ride, and a hell of a hard one at that.  This one was for the mean muggers and those looking to start some shit.  While their next album, Warriorz, put them right at that level of notoriety thanks to "Ante Up" and gave them their highest selling album to date, First Family...was an album that continued to show that this Mashed Out Posse wasn't going anywhere but higher and higher.  happy twentieth salute to First Family 4 Life.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Happy 20th: Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life

What's going on family?! This salute goes to an artist that has transcended hip-hop and has become one of the world's most financially lucrative acts around.  With his net worth alone at close to a billion dollars, this man was already going in that direction to take over the world once this album hit.  He had previously had lots of acclaim with his legendary debut, Reasonable Doubt, and then followed it up with a highly commercially sounding, In My Lifetime Vol. 1.  He was clearly one of the best in the business, but he was aiming for the title as World Champion.  With this album, he inched one step closer to that title and distinction.  Backed with one of the dopest singles ever heard in rap, period, this album would go on to sell nearly five million units, and solidify him as an official worldwide star.  This is our salute to Jay-Z and his third album, Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life.

Jay was already a rapidly rising star in hip-hop, with his platinum albums of Reasonable Doubt, In My Lifetime Vol. 1, and the gold success of the Streets Is Watching soundtrack.  Jay had been on the cusp of worldwide stardom going into '98, and all he needed was that one grand slam hit and knock it out the park.  Enter the AMAZING cut "Hard Knock Life", an ode to growing up in the streets of Marcy Projects, Brooklyn over a highly infectious Annie-sample thanks to producer 45 King (same guy responsible for Eminem's legendary single "Stan").  Once we peeped this fire, we had a feeling his forthcoming album, Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life, would be a burner, and boy was it ever.

Every cut was a bonafide smash and had something for literally everybody.  From the double-time frenzied reunion with his one time mentor/friend Jaz-O "Nigga What, Nigga Who" to the speaker blazing collab with DMX "Money, Cash, Hoes" and the classic bouncing battle-of-the-sexes "Can I Get A..." with (at the time) new artists, Ja-Rule and Amil, virtually every cut could knock on hip-hop radio.  Still keeping a street element with cuts like the posse-induced "Resevoir Dogs" and "If I Should Die", we saw the transition of Jay-Z to Jigga in full form.  He was brash, cocky, the epitome of swag, but still hood to his heart, and it showed all over this tremendous release.

This album ended up becoming his biggest selling and most commercially successful album, selling in excess of five and a half million units.  With those figures, Shawn Carter had officially arrived.  At a time where artists such as Lauryn Hill, Outkast, DMX, and even rival Nas were completely running things, Jay emphatically etched his name among the giants of hip-hop, and never looked back since.  Subsequent albums such as Vol. 3...Life & Times of S. Carter, The Black Album, American Gangster, his most recent monumental release 4:44. and the classic Blueprint all demonstrated his ability to get on top, and for the most part, stayed on top.  While there are those that will argue about his one dimensional content (that was completely erased on 4:44), one can never argue that Jay isn't among the greatest to ever touch the mic, commercially and critically.  With Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life, Jay showed that not only did he belong at the big boy's table, he was gonna get the big piece of chicken.  With that, happy twentieth anniversary to this breakout album.