Hip hop from the wall. 1. This month the bull has caught me by the horns, instead of the other way round. Mea culpa. Between following some of the World Cup, which can end up robbing you of six hours a day, the constant flow of music festivals, the intensification (and therefore, deterioration) of national television programming, the countless nights out in the cold trusting that the Lakers would slip up (jokes and comments, not yet—give me a break, I need to digest it all), the progressive increase in kilometres with my Mizunos, and the classic pre-summer emergencies have left me at the end of June with an avalanche of new albums on the table that I need to get out of the way to keep from having a pile-up on my batteries and hard disk. There is no time to lose. The clock is ticking and the fresh music is calling. So let’s get on with it. I’ll start off, as always, with a selection of the most interesting mixtapes that have appeared on the Internet in the last four weeks. Free material, within the reach of a click, that will drag even the stingiest and cheapest people towards rap consumerism, the people who are always complaining about the prices of everything except pot and cocaine.
a) The Drake phenomenon has really taken off in the United States with “Thank Me Later”, the disconcerting coming-out album from the man who was destined to become the new star in the rap firmament. It doesn’t lack turntables or ingeniousness, but the debut’s musical and lyrical balance, as we have already written in the review section, doesn’t really justify all the hype. Even so, and it’s only fair to recognise this publicly, the album has been winning me over the more I listen to it, and if a few days ago I gave it a 6.9, today I’d give it a couple of tenths of a higher score, if only for the outrageous “Over”. In any case, Drizzy devotees have to check out the Cookin’ Soul website, the Valencian trio of DJs and producers who never stop making noise with their mixtapes. The latest that they’ve served up offers Don Cannon as master of ceremonies and consists of an entire re-reading of “Thank Me Later” with the addition of some verses by 2Pac, Biggie or Rick Ross, not to mention a little personal licence. Fine, sober, polished work, as is becoming habitual for them. Download it here.b) And coming soon, in theory this week, is the launching of the official debut of Donnis, with the “Fashionably Late” EP. Previously, to mess around and shake up the media cocktail a little, the rapper from Atlanta pulled the mixtape “The Invitation” out from his sleeve, awakening even greater expectations for his opera prima. Donnis’ bet looks really good: although he maintains his one-hundred-percent Southern identity, the flow, the rhymes, and the production show intentions and ambitions that go beyond the geographical limitations and the corset of dirty south. If the EP and his LP debut follow the path marked on this mixtape, we’ll be talking about something important and remarkable. It’s no coincidence that Atlantic Records duked it out with four other labels to sign a contract with him that has quite a few zeros on it. Download it here . c) I’m leaving the heights to get down to the underground. Because in spite of his international renown and recognition, Raekwon is still serving in the gutters. Or at least his sound is still rough, sharp, soulful, and undeniably orthodox. After the indisputable feedback received with his last album, the New York MC is back with “Cocanism Vol. 2”, a mixtape that never lets its guard down. The biggest highlight, by far, is “Road To Riches”, supposedly a new song by Mobb Deep with Rae’s collaboration, which will demonstrate, above all, that Prodigy and Havoc have come back in style. Who said New York rap was dead?
d) Let’s go down another floor. Royce Da 5’9’, one of my favourite MC’s and one of the most undervalued in the last decade, has a new entry in his “Bar Exam” series, the third album. Now that the Detroit rapper has earned a certain indie popularity thanks to the Slaughterhouse project, it’s a good time to show the newcomers what he’s capable of and why, despite all of his problems with the industry and his questionable decisions when it comes to choosing beats, the headz still have him up on a pedestal. Don’t expect anything other than hard, angry rhythms, his brand-name cutting flow, and the hardcore battle rhymes that characterise his discourse, including an overwhelming freestyle over the brilliant bass of “Over”, arguably (and I know that I am repeating myself) the best moment of “Thank Me Later” and one of the year’s heavy hitters. Click
e) And five. Even lower. Independent as fuck, said Company Flow before El-P definitively went crazy. I would swear that I’ve already talked about Sha Stimuli at some point in this section. We’re talking about one of the freshest, most interesting independent MC’s of the moment. He’s just hung “Overtime: Soul to Keep”, an outburst of boom bap fury with a lot of soul and emotion that bodes well, and practically guarantees a new album in line with the splendid “My Soul to Keep”. Don’t be shy, it’s free.
2. This is the month for comebacks. Four: The Roots, Dr. Dre, Eminem and Son Of Bazerk. We’ll talk about the first one in-depth in the review section, because the wonderful “How I Got Over” deserves an amount of space that corresponds to its importance and results. As an advance, I’ll say that it is destined to hit the top 3 of the best hip hop albums of the year, and with that I’m making my position clear regarding an exercise in maturity, exploration, and emotional depth that is unusual in the genre these days. The second comeback is fleeting, and what can I tell you? It’s got half of the community freaked out. The leaking of “Under Pressure”, the supposed first single from “Detox”, has set off alarms. If this is what Dr. Dre has been doing for a decade, it might be a good time to think about whether to put the album out or not. The song, with collaboration from Jay-Z, is so bad that there was even some doubt that it was really authentic. Unfortunately, Dre himself has come out to clarify that the part that was leaked hasn’t been mixed or finished yet. That is to say, he doesn’t deny that it’s his song, he just confirms that it’s unfinished. Ok, we can all breathe more easily. Not. And Eminem is also back now with “Recovery”. I thought that “Relapse” was a disaster, but if we compare it to this album, it even sounds worthy. The definitively AOR turn that his musical discourse has taken is incomprehensible, an irritating, awful abuse of rock samples, terrible collaboration from Pink, and in general terms, his total and absolute submission to a sticky, sugary, almost stadium rock sound—it’s unbearable any way you look at it.
With this panorama, it’s clear that besides The Roots, the comeback of the season, at least so far, is Son Of Bazerk. This is an unexpected, unthinkable surprise, and thus doubly celebrated. I got chills when I heard that the group was recording a new album, to be put out in the coming months. To whet your appetite, you can already hear an advance, and the first contact is overwhelmingly hopeful. It’s been forever, nearly twenty years, since their debut and only officially-published album, the angry, overwhelming “Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk”, that is still one of the best production jobs in the history of the genre (by The Bomb Squad), a gem that never received the recognition and fame that it deserved. Along the way there were two other albums that never saw the light of day, locked away in some dusty file cabinet, and which we’ll probably never see on vinyl or CD. But that doesn’t matter, since we know that what’s cooking is a comeback in style, without any pressure other than that of giving a heartfelt, honest gift to us fans of the golden era who still miss them. The first single maintains the essence of their sound, a puzzle of samples like a funk soundtrack, pure fire, pure essence, which is inevitably on its way to becoming a driving force for nostalgia this season. Looking no further, it led me to go back and listen once again to that stratospheric debut album, and my balls dropped to the floor. What a way to get around the passing of time, to stay intense, credible, and fresh twenty years later, to show up today’s rap. You listen to Rick Ross after the sound and the fury of “Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk” and you don’t know whether to burst out laughing or start crying. This month, the history class with some real classics: here are four of the masterpieces of their opera prima so that you will understand what we’re talking about.
Son Of Bazerk - One Time For The Rebel - 1991
Son Of Bazerk- J Dubs Theme 3. I’m going back to what has come out this month, focusing now on official launches you can find on those strange, dismal places that many of us know as record stores. Also in on-line stores, obviously. It’s a question of paying, going by the cash register, forking it over—whatever you want to call it. There’s a lot to do. a) “Patience” is interesting and likeable more for its production than for the contribution of its star, California MC TruthLive. The album is entirely produced by Jake One, who is continuing to forge himself a spotless reputation in the middle class of the underground, thanks to a recognisable sound that successfully combines the boom bap brake with a more up-to-date, bouncy look. b) I’m stepping a little out of line to recover “Unapologetic Art Rap”, by Open Mike Eagle. It’s put out by Mush, and that is enough of a clue to tell us that we aren’t looking at an orthodox hip hop album. This California MC corresponds to the profile of the restless rapper, with a little culture, progressive tastes, who likes the latest Fashawn album and the latest from TV On The Radio. The indie-arty connection is on the scene once again, with splendid production and the work of a promising MC.c) Jimmy Powers is the name of a nerd, a minor-league baseball player, or even a Republican magnate. It’s also the name of a debuting rapper with very clear ideas. “Califoreigner” doesn’t reinvent the wheel, nor does it stand out for its originality; that doesn’t seem to be its intention. What he’s trying to do is stay true to a very clear West-Coast underground rap tradition without losing track of the criteria of quality, freshness, and solvency. A splendid chronicle of a globetrotter and hustler, the album won’t disappoint the followers of Dilated Peoples and other California indie phenomena. And check it out, although he lives in San Diego, Powers was born and raised in Boston, another hotbed of underground production.d) A consolidated rising star. The first time I ever heard of Apollo Brown was when the Finale debut appeared, which we commented on here last year. Then, his work as a producer invited you to think of him as an interesting bet for the future, someone to keep a close eye on. Well, less than twelve months later, here we are with his official debut, “The Reset”, which is backed by collaboration with trustworthy names like Black Milk, Big Pooh, Buff1 and Finale himself. It is a very solid coming-out that faithfully captures the essence of contemporary Detroit rap, a competitive, aggressive, persistent scene that has given rise to good shit in recent years. For fans of Black Milk, here you have a substitute or a contemporary in the same vein. e) I’ll end this review with the triple DVD “Timeless”, which has gone on sale recently, for the enjoyment of black music lovers. This item brings together the concerts of a travelling orchestra of over one hundred Los Angeles musicians over the course of six weeks. It seeks to pay homage to three producers who, for various musical reasons, have become points of reference and icons of the end of the last century and beginning of this one: Mulatu Astatke, afrobeat icon; Arthur Verocai, tropical legend; and J Dilla, one of the ten best producers in the history of hip hop. The fundamental premise is that of vindicating their legacy, but in symphonic key, arranging versions and reinterpretations of the great classics of their discography with a more academic, institutional vision, which gives the initiative more impact, more prestige. This triple DVD comes with a magnificent box that includes a poster, a libretto with notes and writings about the project, and a selection of extra material that perfectly complements the music.
4. Before calling it a day, I have taken the liberty of adding a more literary, or cultural epigraph. If my memory serves, I would say that in a year writing this section, I haven’t recommended or commented on a single book about hip hop. Sooner or later I had to do it, especially since it is a musical genres that has had the greatest, most complete bibliography over the course of the year, whether in the form of cultural studies, musical essays, or analyses of gender, race, or class. It never stops. I wanted to recommend two titles that, for various reasons, weren’t appearing in this column. Here we go. The first, “How To Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip Hop MC”, by Paul Edwards, is intended to be a in-depth, serious, rigorous, technical study of the MC as a key figure in hip hop. The author has talked to an endless number of past and present MC’s so that they could openly confess their secrets, tricks, obsessions, and ambitions when it comes to creating, writing, and even rapping. Although it is a very specific, technical book, let me repeat that its reading is surprisingly pleasant and light, even if your English is not great. Edwards has no problem dedicating whole chapters to the structure of songs, vocal techniques, rhyme tactics, approaches to live performances, life in the studio, and many other subjects that normally don’t appear in specialised magazines.The second, “Born To Use Mics: Reading Nas’s Illmatic”, pulled together by Michael Eric Dyson and Sohail Daultzai with a variety of collaborators, tells us what it’s about right from the title: no more nor less than an in-depth, very subjective study of the lyrics of Nas’ debut album, as far as I’m concerned, one of the best hip hop albums of all time (yes, ahead of “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” - I can’t help it). The structure of the book is very simple: an analysis, song by song, one per collaborator, of the entire lyrical and emotional universe hidden in the eternal, unforgettable lyrics of the coming-out of a twenty-year-old boy who aspired to become the king of the world. Beyond the final result, which is highly uneven, the concept and its execution is crucial for understanding the relevance of Nas in the history of rap and, in turn, that of rap in contemporary American cultural society; it’s not every day that you find a book dedicated solely and exclusively to interpreting the genius and poetic strength of an MC rhyme by rhyme, verse by verse, chorus by chorus.