Sunday, June 30, 2019

Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2019...So Far

What's happening folks! 2019 has been here for six months now.  During this time, we've seen good releases and a few great releases.  While some have considered this a fairly quiet year, it still has some highlights.  Albums from the likes of Benny and Conway of Griselda, Tyler The Creator, and Mach Hommy have been in total rotation since they dropped, while albums from Bun B, Curren$y, 2 Chainz, and Freddie Gibbs have gotten lots of acclaim that's well deserved all around the board.  With that being said, let's get into the list.

15. SOL Development
The SOL of Black Folk
Production: artist

In the times of today where Blacks are getting gunned down by police nationwide and getting acquitted, among numerous other social tragedies within our community, Oakland hip-hop band SOL Development has emerged with one of the most powerful albums in recent years with The SOL of Black Folk, which is a play off the legendary book from W.E.B. DuBois.  Gripping and daring, this collective has constructed an album so important in today's times.  This will be an album that may go overlooked by the general public, but that's a shame because this is such a vital piece of music.

14. Smif-N-Wessun
The All
Production: 9th Wonder & The Soul Council

Bucktown's original gun clappers, Smif-N-Wessun, returned with their first full-length album in eight years, The All. They didn't use prior contributors like Da Beatminerz for this album.  Instead they hooked up with Grammy-Award winning producer extraordinaire 9th Wonder and his collective The Soul Council.  The result is an album that shows that, even though the're still proud representatives of Brooklyn, NYC, they're also older statesmen, as they explore stuff such as love, growth, and devotion to family and industry. While not the sincere classic Dah Shinin' was, SMW are still NYC legends. With a somewhat nostalgic boom bap feel, Tek & Steele return to let everyone know, they still have the hunger, even with their veteran status in the game.

13. Quelle Chris
Production: artist, Chris Keys

One of hip-hop's most talented, albeit left-brained, emcees to represent Detroit is Quelle Chris.  Known for very good efforts such as Ghost At The Finish Line, Innocent Country, and I Wish I Could Be You More Often..., Chris goes a more social and alarming route with the simple-title, Guns.  Exploring the damage guns have had within our country, he explores this from various angles to demonstrate his ability to keep you intrigued.  A more gloomy album than we've seen before from him, his message gets across, even if it strikes you in ways that are clothed in discomfort.

12. billy woods & Kenny Kenny Segal
Hiding Places
Production: Kenny Segal

New York's billy woods is one of the underground's most intriguing emcees.  His style of spoken-word poetry rap is one that at times has to grow on you, but once it hits you, it hits for real. Prior efforts such as Today, I Wrote Nothing and Known Unknowns exhibit pain, frustration, and at times hopelessness in the world around him. Not much changes with Hiding Places, as he gets up with Cali beatmaker Kenny Segal to present a world of cruel realities and pessimistic views of the human experience.  This effort continues to show why woods should be on the lips of any fan of contemporary underground hip-hop and it's only a matter of time before woods becomes too big for the subterrain to hold.

11. PIVOT Gang
You Can't Sit With Us
Production: daedae PIVOT, squeak PIVOT

After the heartbreaking and tragic death of PIVOT Gang member, John Walt, (which was so exquisitely remembered on arguably the best album of 2018, Saba's Care For Me), the crew reassembles for You Can't Sit With Us. This is a great introduction to those largely unfamiliar with the crew beyond Saba.  The talent is all over here and this Chi-town squad clearly has sights outside of Chi-city.  Life, love, and holding each other down are all big pointers throughout the album.  Though life hasn't been easy at all with any member, they present their issues in ways that are completely relatable and conjure empathy.  It's a safe bet to say their futures look good, especially with one of their own proudly watching over them.

10. Conway The Machine
Everybody Is Food 3
Production: Daringer, DJ Skizz, others

Ah, the Griselda camp. Arguably the hardest crew in hip-hop at the moment.  They may also be the hottest musically too.  The emcee known as The Machine, Conway, is part of this three headed monster alongside brother Westside Gunn and cousin Benny The Butcher.  Not having put out a full-length album since the super gutter G.O.A.T., he's been on his mixtape hustle like nobody's business.  Earlier this year, he released the third installment of his Everybody Is F.O.O.D. series, and this knocks as hard as anything the Buffalo native has delivered.  While there may be one or two introspective cuts, don't get it twisted, there's no sweet shit here.  The grimiest will remain the grimiest and if that wylin' out for the night, fist thrower music is what you crave, accept no substitutes than Conway.

9. DJ Muggs & Mach Hommy
Tuez-Les Tous
Production: DJ Muggs

Former Griselda-associate Mach Hommy is among the most enigmatic emcees around.  However, his talent is undeniable and it caught the attention of legendary DJ/producer, Muggs, for their first collaborative effort, Tuez-Les Tous (which is French for 'kill them all').  The Haitian-born emcee is most known for his rhyming over production from the likes of Nicholas Craven and Tha God Fahim, but Muggs brings some of his lyrical abilities out for Muggs.  This is as dark as you might could imagine, and with the string of hottness Muggs has been on with his collaborative albums with the likes of Roc Marciano, Meyhem Lauren, and Eto, this is another chapter into the furthering of both men's legacies.

8. Boogie
Everything's For Sale
Production: S-1, Keyel, Streetrunner, Fresh Ayr, others

Compton upstart, Boogie, first got mainstream shine on the BET Hip-Hop Awards during the Shady/Griselda cypher.  From there, the buzz around the Shady emcee was building, and in early January, he finally dropped his debut, Everything's For Free.  The album covers emotions ranging from anger to carefree to introspective, and it makes for a very well-rounded album.  The talent from Boogie is palpable and this excellent album shows his willingness to be open and honest is always welcomed, and he does this throughout the album.  This is a strong major label debut from the Comptonite, and chances are his best work is still to come.

7. Curren$y & Statik Selektah
Gran Turismo
Production: Statik Selektah

If there was an emcee from the south that is way overdue to be mentioned among the unsung heroes, it's Curren$y.  After his ungodly dope effort with Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist last year, Fetti, plus numerous other enjoyable releases like Covert Coup, the Pilot Talk series, and numerous other mixtapes and EPs, he's back with another knocking collaborative effort. He teams up with DJ/producer excellence, Statik Selektah, for Gran Turismo.  As you can expect from Selektah, it's full that 90s boom bap sound, only with some occasional southern styles showing up in grand fashion.  Assisting him on the dope ride are the likes of Jadakiss, Jim Jones, Termanology and Wiz Khalifa (who delivered a well-executed project, 2009, earlier in the year).  Curren$y is one of the most prolific emcees out and for good reason. This dumb good project only continues to solidify the name of Curren$y and the legacy is continuing to build.

6. Tyler The Creator
Production: artist

After delivering what many called the album of his career two years ago with Flower Boy, Tyler The Creator goes even deeper into his artistic envelope with the melancholy, IGOR.  Filled with vulnerability and emotive expression, Tyler shows that he knows how to not only think outside the box, he creates a whole new box.  Don't let his off-kilter singing here throw you off, this effort is ambitious and courageous much like his prior effort.  Done, seemingly, are his shock comedy raps and instead has been replaced them with emotive portraits of a young man wanting to make sense of where he belongs in this world. This album is a reflection of that and more.

5. Your Old Droog
It Wasn't Even Close
Production: Daringer, Evidence, Sahdu Gold, Tha God Fahim, others

The Ukranian Brooklynite Your Old Droog is considered a highly talented emcee and rightfully so.  Albums of his such as Packs, his EP The Nicest, and his simply excellent self titled debut put him onto people's radar with his great lyricism, especially his early comparisons to Nas.  He returned in 2019 with It Wasn't Even Close, a more brooding sounding album but the lyrical talents remained the same.  With contributors such as Roc Marciano, Mach Hommy, Wiki from RATKING, and the ever sly fox himself DOOM, Droog more than holds his own, and displays his talent once again showing why he's becoming more and more revered as years go along.

4. Bun B & Statik Selektah
Production: Statik Selektah

Did we ever think we would see a whole collaborative effort from NYC's residential DJ/producer, Statik Selektah and hip-hop legend (regardless of regional section), Bun B?  It happened earlier this year with the album, TrillStatik.  Bun over heavy east coast boom bap production doesn't seem like it would work for an entire album, but it does, very damn well.  While he rhymes alongside cohorts like Talib Kweli, Big K.R.I.T., Fat Joe, Grafh, and Method Man, this is clearly his stage and holds up well with these and other very talented cats.  A definite win for everybody here.

3. Mach Hommy
Wap Konn Joj (EP)
Production: Nicholas Craven, Earl Sweatshirt, Tha God Fahim, The Alchemist

The ever mysterious, yet highly touted, Brooklynite Mach Hommy hasn't delivered a solo effort in few years, yet presented two projects so far in 2019.  Earlier, his effort with DJ Muggs was touted for bringing some of Hommy's best work.  However, his latest EP is just as great, if not better. The EP, Wap Konn Joj (which is Haitian creole for 'You'll get what's coming), is filled with very dark soundscapes with minimal to no drums and snares and some of those same cautionary tales we've known about him.  With fantastic production from the likes of Alchemist, Fahim, and Nicholas Craven ("Mozambique Plan" counts among the most hypnotic soundscapes of the year), Hommy continues to expand his cult-like fan base and there's still more than enough ammo for him to hit more fans and grow more accessibility.

2. Benny The Butcher
The Plugs I Met (EP)
Production: The Alchemist, Daringer, Beat Butcha

In 2018, Griselda's Benny The Butcher delivered the album of his career thus far with the instant classic, Tana Talk 3.  He follows that up with this year's offering, The Plugs I Met.  This EP feels like a continuation of TT3, which is a very damn good thing.  The ever talented cousin of Gunn and Conway is as vicious as they come in this era of hip-hop, and his storytelling abilities can rival legends like Raekwon, Ghostface, and Scarface very easily.  With incredible production from Alan The Chemist, Daringer, and Beat Butcha to spit over, this tough-talking hustler is geared and primed to be one of the biggest stars to emerge from NY this generation. If TT3 didn't compel you with that statement, The Plugs I Met will quiet those doubts.

1. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
Production: Madlib

One of the most anticipated albums in years has been the follow-up to the instant classic from Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Pinata.  In the mid-2010s, you couldn't find many albums that were more consistent and sonically more substantial than Pinata.  Since then, Gibbs has delivered great efforts like Shadow Of A Doubt, Freddie, and You Only Live 2wice, however all eyes have been on him and producer extraordinaire Madlib to reunite and give us Bandana.  It finally arrived, and boy did it deliver as we knew it would.  From top to bottom, this album is a total slapper.  Madlib presents some of his richest production to date, while Gibbs brings some of his hardest rhymes in years.  Gibbs and Madlib are simply perfect together, much like Madlib and DOOM were in 2005 when they were Madvillain.  One of the most soulful gangsta albums heard this decade, if not ever, Bandana has to be spoken of as perhaps the hardest album of 2019.

Honorable Mentions

Beast Coast- Escape From NY
Injury Reserve- Injury Reserve
Little Simz- Grey Area
Vinnie Paz & Tragedy Khadafi- Camouflage Regime
Choosey & Exile- Black Beans
Erick Sermon- Vernia
Cantrell- Devil Never Even Lived
Nems & Jazzsoon- Gorilla Monsoon
Crimeapple & DJ Skizz- Wet Dirt
Your Old Droog- Transportation
Epic Beard Men- This Was Supposed To Be Fun
2 Chainz- Rap Or Go To The League
Czarface & Ghostface Killah- Czarface Meets Ghostface
Blu & Oh No- A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night
The Good People- Good For Nothin'
Clear Soul Forces- Forces Still

While 2019 has been a relatively quiet and slowed down year compared to this time in years past, it has been anything but wack as you can see.  With releases coming from Westside Gunn, the Griselda/Shady debut, De La Soul, Isaiah Rashad, Black Moon, Joell Ortiz, Big K.R.I.T., Skyzoo & Pete Rock, Sean Price & Lil Fame, Common, Rapsody and The Lost Tapes 2 finally coming, the year looks a bunch better and there's no reason to believe that we've only just begun to see the heat coming for the remainder of the year.  Get ready now for more consistent bangers.  Don't say we didn't warn you.  Until next time folks!

Monday, May 6, 2019

20th Anniversary Salute: Operation Doomsday

What's happening everybody??  It's been a while since there's been a posting due to personal issues (always be sure to have your mental strength be as strong or stronger than your physical if possible), but we're back and here to give props to another influential album celebrating its twentieth birthday.  This album in particular stands as one of the most left-brained releases the underground has ever delivered.  From the mind of a former member of KMD-turned-reborn supervillain, this album was quirky, odd, and unorthodox, but was also quite lyrical and definitely had a feel of an emcee that was scientific with his approach to hip-hop.  With animated samples aplenty throughout the album, this album laid the foundation to one of the most acclaimed repackaging moments in hip-hop history, and started a following that is still revered to this day.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is MF DOOM (now just DOOM) and his debut, Operation: Doomsday.

Much like Daniel Dumille's alter ego, he based his life and career after the arch rival of the Fantastic Four, Victor Von Doom, Much like him, he was angry at an accident that disfigured him and he in turn donned a metal mask and plotted revenge against the world for his pain, DOOM lost his brother and fellow KMD member DJ Subroc, and he clearly was still in mourning, while growing disgusted with how commercialized and materialized hip-hop had become.  As a result, Operation Doomsday was created.  This was an album for those that needed something...different.  In '99, the Bad Boy era was slowly declining, but more from No Limit and Cash Money, plus the hardcore stylings of the likes of DMX were starting to flood the airwaves.  The underground, in the meantime, was starting to deliver some groundbreaking work.  Acts such as Company Flow, El-P, Cannibal Ox, and Lone Catalysts were starting to pop up and delivered some truly breathtaking material.  This was where DOOM could show his talent as the supervillain, and did he ever.

From the opening cut, the Sade-sampled "Doomsday", we hear a pretty subdued yet intriguing emcee with rhymes for days and a distinct delivery.  From there, cuts like "Rhymes Like Dimes", "Red and Gold" (this was done by another alter ego, King Geedorah), "Gas Draws", and the melancholy "?" show his dexterity, yet all highlight how gifted of an emcee he is, even if some of his rhymes may go over some casual listeners heads at first.  The same holds true for other cuts like the posse cut "Who You Think I Am", "Tick Tick" and "Go With The Flow" all fit in hand and glove with the flow of Operation Doomsday.  There's a strange beauty within this album that takes a bit of unpacking in order to obtain the gift that is this album.  That's actually part of the fun.

While most newer fans of his have heard a more razor sharp emcee with albums such as Born Like This, Mm...Food, and especially the landmark underground epic Madvillainy, DOOM has become a folk hero, yet much like comic book heroes such as Wolverine or Batman, there's an enigmatic appeal to him that keeps fans coming back to him.  Lyrically, he's shown his entire worth over these span of albums.  It's encouraged for these newer heads to peep his alter ego works of King Geedorah's Take Me To Your Leader and the two Viktor Vaughn albums, Vaudeville Villain and VV2, to get the meat of where Madvillainy was coming from.  His vivid rhyme structure and ability to have you delve into the mad of a pissed off, yet highly intelligent, supervillain is enough to make you clamor for more, With Operation Doomsday, the door was opened for distinctive personalities with unique yet very highly decent, lyricism and a cult following that has increased due to the allure of hip-hop's most mysterious emcee.  Happy twentieth to Operation Doomsday

20th Anniversary Salute: 2001

What's going on people? In a year that saw phenomenal releases from the likes of Black Moon, Eightball & MJG, the Violator compilation, Pharoahe Monch, and Mobb Deep, perhaps the album that was the most talked about was from a true icon in hip-hop.  Having already setting the standard for west coast hip-hop with his landmark debut, The Chronic.  This album established Deathrow as a force within hip-hop, as it introduced the likes of Snoop (Doggy) Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound, Lady Of Rage, and RBX (where's he been?) With all-time classic singles like "Nuthin' But A G Thang", "Fuckin' With Dre Day", and "Let Me Ride", plus monster album cuts like "Stranded On Death Row" and "Little Ghetto Boy" , it's no wonder this album has sold over five million units domestically.  How in the world would this artist follow up such a monumental game shifter like The Chronic? The answer would come seven years later, and good Lord was it a follow-up.  This is a twentieth anniversary salute to Dr. Dre and his sophomore album, 2001.

What was easily among the most anticipated sophomore albums of the nineties was the sequel to Dre's Chronic album.  As was aforementioned, careers were spawned from this release such as Snoop, Dogg Pound, and Dre's half brother Warren G.  Plus, between '95 to '99, the relationship between Dre and Snoop had soured somewhat and Snoop didn't have Dre's assistance again until the incredible cut "Bitch Please" from Snoop's No Limit Top Dogg album of '99 (salute coming perhaps).  To fully whet the appetite of hip-hop lovers worldwide, the first single was released, and indeed it was Dre and Snoop again on the triumphant, G-funk laced "Still D-R-E".  From there the super dope follow up single with newly signed Aftermath artist Eminem dropped "Forgot About Dre" , as well as "The Next Episode" and "The Watcher".  Every track on 2001 (why it wasn't just called Chronic 2001 is beyond me) was tailor made for Dre and anyone else associated with him.  Much like The Chronic, this album hosts guests a-plenty such as already established stars like Xzibit, Defari, west coast vet King T, and former N.W.A. cohort MC Ren, as well as up-and-comers such as Hittman, Six-Two, Knocc-turnal, and Ms. Roq.  All the guests on this album delivered with precision and quality, with Em easily being the highlight emcee of the album.

The production here was next level Dre, as it sounded like an updated G-funk sound, and this especially prevalent on cuts like "XXXPlosive" (which Erykah Badu ended up also using for "Bag Lady"), "Housewife", and the slick-sounding "Bitch Niggaz". Other cuts like "The Watcher", "What's The Difference", "Fuck U", and "Bang Bang" really hit you in the face with their knocking, thumping production and non-fuck-giving rhymes that exemplify a Dre album.  While the production here is as top notched of a Dre one could imagine considering how brilliantly epic The Chronic was, all the guests here show tremendous talent.  Yes folks, Em outshined each and every person here, but don't undermine the contributions of folks like Xzibit, Snoop, and the once promising Hittman.  Thus making this album a very well-rounded package.

With the exception of the highly reflective and somber "Message" (written by Royce 5'9"), this was one hundred percent gangsta shit.  Did you expect anything less from a Dre album? Dre's 2001 was the perfect follow-up to The Chronic and ended up establishing its own legacy, not to mention selling over seven million units.  While he followed this up nearly twenty years later with Compton, which was pretty damn dope in itself, it still didn't quite live up the gargantuan expectations from The Chronic and 2001.  Regardless, 2001 served as one of the greatest sophomore albums of all-time and showed the world that Andre Young was in fact hip-hop's Quincy Jones for a reason.  Until next time homies!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

20th Anniversary Salute: Things Fall Apart

What's the deal peoples?! This salute highlights a group that can go down in history as one of the greatest acts in all of hip-hop.  Their level of consistency matches other legendary acts such as Outkast or Public Enemy or EPMD.  From the moment we got introduced to these guys with their underground album, Organix, we knew this was something different.  Then came their major label debut, Do You Want More?!!?!!, which brought forth live instrumentation and solid lyricism from an actual hip-hop band, much like Stetsasonic only completely next level.  Their singles of "Proceed" and "Distortion To Static" were experimental with jazz much like earlier albums from Tribe and Digable Planets, and they worked.  From there, they reached an even higher plateau with the simple amazing spectacle that was Illadelph Halflife, a underappreciated classic that remains as one of hip-hop's true gems and truly showed the level of exquisite talent everybody in this group played.  They would elevate their name from here, as they delivered an album that has been argued to be every bit as exceptional as Illadelph Halflife, and officially put them into mainstream's consciousness by earning Grammy wins and nominations.  We knew the brilliance of this group has legitimately been noticed by the world.  We salute The Roots and their fourth album, Things Fall Apart.

It had to be an uphill battle trying to outdo the prodigious nature of Do You Want More and the legit brilliance of Illadelph Halflife, but the attempt resulted in them delivering their breakout album, their first platinum plaque, and as was mentioned earlier, Grammy nominations and awards.  The album's first single, the melancholy-sounding yet heavily refreshing "You Got Me" features a guest lyrical appearance from fellow Philly native Eve and the divine Erykah Badu on the hook.  This alone made fans and critics turn their ears up in anticipation for a new Roots album.  From there, the next single was just incredible.  The DJ Jazzy Jeff (another Philly native) scratched "The Next Movement".  Here is where we see the great Black Thought exercise his lyrical muscles even more than we saw on prior projects.  This was one of the major stories throughout this album.  If Thought had arrived on Illadelph, he set up shop and placed his foot in the ground of superior hip-hop lyricists on Things Fall Apart.  This highly infectious cut is one of an album's worth of spectacular tracks that was the perfect album for those who wanted to hear The Roots for the first time in their ascent to mainstream stardom.

The sounds and production on this album is of magic, as this still continued the jazzy stylings of previous work and their ever noted live instrumentation, but added even more slick grooves and more overall cohesiveness.  On cuts like "Double Trouble" with Mos Def and "Act Too (Love Of My Life)" with Common, they resonate their obsession with hip-hop with old school images that made them fall in love with the culture and artform in the first place.  When they're not conjuring eighties-type raw passion with other sizzlers like "100% Dundee", the Beanie Sigel-assisted "Adrenaline", and the Dilla-crafted "Dynamite", their getting stuff of their chest (by 'they' I mean Thought mostly) and start letting you into their thought process with cuts like "Ain't Saying Nothing New" and "Don't See Us".  Of course the closer with famed spoken word artist Ursela Rucker "Return To Innocence Lost" is just an amazing closeout.

What The Roots accomplished with Things Fall Apart is a portrayal of a group coming into their own without sacrificing any inkling of what got them their acclaim in the first place.  This is an album that somewhat still stands as that certified album to truly get to know The Roots better, whereas Illadelph and Do You Want More were more introductions lyrically and artistically from them, with astounding results.  It goes without saying that other subsequent efforts such as Phrenology, Game Theory, The Tipping Point, Rising Down, the awe-inspiring How I Got Over, and Undun all walk within the same class of constant greatness and legitimizes them as the most consistently acclaimed act (not named Outkast) in hip-hop.  With Things Fall Apart, they gave us a project that let us all know once and for all, The legendary Roots crew wasn't going anywhere.  Happy twentieth to this scintillating album.

20th Anniversary Salute: Blackout

What's happening kind folks?!  This salute goes to one of the most anticipated albums of its era.  Two of the most recognized names in hip-hop came together for an album that met all expectations and created some sure fire club and car speaker classics.  Both men were members of prominent crews within the game and since their breakout collab hit "How High", they had been considered one of hip-hop's best tag team duos.  The result was an album fill with bangers, and an album that will still malfunction any speaker it resonates from.  We salute Method Man & Redman and their debut album, Blackout.

Admit it, from the moment you heard either version of "How High", you heard a chemistry that was palpable.  Almost like this should've been an idea for years prior.  Meth was riding high off his crossover success from the Wu.  His debut album, Tical, was a platinum smash and showed he had the star power to elevate his own name apart from his Wu brothers.  Redman was part of Def Squad with Erick Sermon and Keith Murray.  Redman had been the breakout star of the three and most recognizable name with prior dope albums like Whut? Thee Album, Dare Iz A Darkside, and Muddy Waters, in spite of Erick being formerly one half of the legendary duo EPMD.  It's been said that Meth was at odds with various members of the Wu and began to grow closer to Red than his Wu brethren to the point where they were damn like real brothers.  After the buzz of "How High", our hip-hop dreams were realized when he heard "Tear Da Roof Off", which was the first server from their debut collabo album, Blackout. The Erick Sermon-produced track was filled with everything you would expect from them: high energy, fun, and a chemistry very reminiscent of other iconic duos like the aforementioned EPMD or Run-DMC.  The album finally got released, and it was met with platinum-plus acclaim.  These two kindred spirits delivered a very formidable album and it was very fluid.  Every cut sounded like it was very effective in blending into the next damn near flawlessly.  Their next single "Da Rockwilder" to this day is THAT certified club smash that immediately brings everybody to the floor.  It's not a long single, as it's only about two and a half minutes long, but in that duration, it's heavy sweat and a feel good vibe that unites everybody into getting on that good foot.  Pretty much, the entire album is this way, with other cuts like "Y.O.U.", "Checka" (their DOPE tribute to Das EFX and their cut 'Mic Checka'), and the LL Cool J and Ja-Rule-assisted "4 Seasons" helping in the flames department of this effort.

The only somewhat out of place cuts here are the RZA-produced cuts here of "Cereal Killer" and the Ghostface-assisted "Run 4 Cover", as they're slightly darker to no surprise and tend to speed bump the overall fluidity of the album when this was all mid to high fever the majority of this album.  These cuts aren't subpar folks, so don't confuse this.  However, with the energy of the album, they feel out of place.  In any event, this album is impossible not to feel good about and get neck cramps while listening.  Their follow-up, Blackout 2, was almost as seamless, although the energy wasn't as consistently high as before.  Nevertheless, Red & Meth showed with Blackout, that infectious personalities such as there's can produce star making results without being pop-sounding, generic, or forced. They commanded the streets, suburbs, and clubs all at the same time.  That's appeal.  We salute Reggie and Meth-Tical for this searing album on their twentieth anniversary.

Friday, January 18, 2019

20th Anniversary Salute: Internal Affairs

What's great my folks?!  This salute goes to an album that was one of the most acclaimed debut albums of the late nineties.  The emcee that delivered this piece of work was half of one of the most underrated lyrical duos in all of the game, Organized Konfusion.  Their albums of their self-titled debut, Stress: The Extinction Agenda, and The Equinox were all heavily acclaimed albums that put them among the most revered throughout the underground, but still largely overlooked beyond the sub-terrain.  When the announcement came this emcee was going solo, the intrigue quickly came, much less his deal was through red hot underground label Rawkus Records at the time.  The result was a flames gold album and an emcee finally getting his just due among the elite of spitters that still continues to this day.  This salute goes to Pharoahe Monch and his debut, Internal Affairs.

The Queens emcee has always been among the most cleverly witted, yet insane, lyricists out there on the low during his days with Prince Po as Organized Konfusion, but with their split, the spotlight was on him to deliver, and with the highly charged and anthemic, "Simon Says (Get The Fuck Up)", he was on his way to becoming a more visible star.  The Godzilla-sampled banger was on radio and television a lot during its peak and turned this relatively underappreciaed emcee into a growing household name.  When Internal Affairs hit, the album was met with immediate high praise.  The album started with an ominous sounding cut, "Behind Closed Doors", and from there got the party started and the energy up with cuts like "The Next Shit" with Busta (his flow on that cut was so nuts particularly), "Official", and the all-star remix of "Simon Says" with Busta returning, Redman, Meth, underground lyrical swordsman Shabaam Sahdeeq, and then-newcomer Lady Luck.  There weren't too many glitches with this album, especially by this point.

Monch wasn't just a battler, he was also a reflective dude on this album on cuts like the ghetto love story "The Light", "The Truth" with fellow legendary lyricists Common and Talib Kweli, and the reunion cut with Prince Po "God Send".  This album was quite the blend of consciousness, soul, and going straight for the throat, all in one dynamite album.  He varied with different, but very effective, flows throughout the album and highlighted his knack for putting together typically complex rhyme structures and made them sound flawless.  While cuts like "The Ass" weren't necessarily needed for this release and "Rape", although dope, can come off in not the best view (especially in today's age), they don't weigh down how crazy this album is and how hard it overall goes.

With Internal Affairs, Monch establishes himself as an emcee to no longer sleep on or overlook within the mainstream.  Subsequent albums like Desire, P.T.S.D., and W.A.R. were all greatly received and further exhibited his phenomenal lyrical and storytelling talent, it will always go back to his debut as arguably his most acclaimed effort across the board and it became his magnum opus and career benchmark.  We salute Internal Affairs and look forward to rotating this another twenty years.

20th Anniversary Salute: I Am...

What's good my folks?!  This salute goes to one of the legit greatest emcees of all-time.  He delivered, in the eyes of many, the single greatest hip-hop of all-time in Illmatic and established himself as a star with his triple platinum follow-up, It Was Written.  With his third album, any criticisms he dealt with initially with It Was Written was somewhat tackled and managed to construct a project that critics have referred to as perhaps his most underrated effort to this day.  Filled with vivid storytelling, engaging production, brilliant lyricism, and a need to shut critics up for unfairly bashing It Was Written because it wasn't Illmatic 2, this album struck back and delivered a damn solid project.  Not to mention the album went on to double platinum status and once and for all set his place among the elite of mainstream/commercial hip-hop.  We salute Nas and his third album, I Am...

Originally, this was slated to be a double album entitled I Am...The Autobiography.  Due to an excessive bootlegging problem, the double album concept was scrapped.  Cuts like "Fetus (Belly Button Window)", "My Worst Enemy", "Amongst Kings", "Sometimes I Wonder", "Blaze A 50", and "U Gotta Love It" were taken off, among several others, and put on other projects and mixtapes such as his follow up to I Am, Nastradamus, his QB's Finest compilation, and his highly heralded Lost Tapes.  With the concept being his life from beginning to end, the thought of how monumental this could've been boggles the mind.  Not to fret, the new cuts he brought forth were, for the most part, incredible.  One of them being the monster hit with Puffy, "Hate Me Now". along with others like the R. Kelly-sampled "K-I-SS-I-N-G", "I Want To Talk To You", the Scarface-assisted "Favor For A Favor", and the addictive "Money Is My Bitch".  The lead-off single, "Nas Is Like" had him returning to his Illmatic roots with a classic Premo beat, only to be rivaled by the SICK sequel to Illmatic's "NY State Of Mind" as overall best boom bap production on the album.

To nobody's surprise, Nasir Jones went left quite a few times on the album in terms of forward thinking and genius concepts.  With the somber "Undying Love", he plays a cat who's love for some chick ends up in a murder/suicide in one of the cinematic cuts we've ever heard Nas deliver.  Very much up there with another lost I Am...The Autobiography cut, "Drunk By Myself".  Also, on "Money Is My Bitch", he compares money to his girlfriend and how his lust for "her" plays him in several different ways.  Of course on the haunting "We Will Survive", he speaks to the souls of Pac and Biggie individually in what was a magnificent track.  Are there any subpar cuts here? Yeah, maybe.  While many didn't particularly care a great deal for the duet with the late Aaliyah "You Won't See Me Tonight", his attempt at double timing on "Big Things", or the overly tacky "Dr. Knockboots", his overall efforts on this album were to recapture any fans he had lost with it Was Written and reminding them just who he was.  There were far more highlights and standouts than duds, and his efforts weren't in vain.

By this time, people were still clamoring for Illmatic 2, but he had clearly moved on artistically and lyrically.  What he did bring was a somewhat mash up of It Was Written and Illmatic, plus new flavor and new direction.  While his follow-up, Nastradamus, was overall seen as his lowest point, he returned in ridiculously grand fashion with the hugely triumphant Stillmatic, as it marked the closest thing to Illmatic as we had heard from him.  Other releases like God's Son, Street's Disciple, Hip-Hop Is Dead, his untitled album, and Life Is Good were all met with mixed to positive general reviews and further established Nas as the new god emcee.  With I Am, while we sometimes marvel at what could've been had the double album been released as planned, what we got was still an impressive array of songs from a true hip-hop legend and one of the brilliant lyricists and storytellers to ever exist in hip-hop.  We salute I Am.Happy twentieth anniversary. Lift your glasses!