Hip hop from the wall 1. Here we are again. We’ve got our suitcases packed, passports in order, with all of that reading that we’ve been setting aside all year waiting for this moment, with our summer clothes all dusted off and spruced up, and the perspective of two or three weeks entirely devoted to the noble art of doing absolutely nothing. Only one detail of vital importance is missing: to fill our iPod to the brim. Every year it’s the same old song: the holiday season arrives, presumably with a trip involved, and you find yourself the night before you’re leaving with your MP3 player rusty, wanting to be totally renewed for the down time in airports, train stations, car trips, afternoons running, or sleepless nights. If you’re reading this right now and your neurons are melting down, don’t stop, maybe you’ll find a suggestion, idea, or resource to help you fill in some extra megabytes.
In fact, it’s the high season, and there are constantly interesting, outstanding launches on the American rap circuit. Since there is a lot to talk about this month, I’ll get down to business. So to start with, a pack of mixtapes to keep you busy for a few days without having to open your wallet. Don’t let your spirits drop, because there are free sessions and launches for all tastes, palates, and sensitivities. First let’s hit the freshest fish in the sea. As we announced here a few days ago, the producer Exile, one of the new cats who has been making the most noise for the last couple of years, whether in the company of Blu, Fashawn or solo, is giving out the surplus of what will be his new album, “AM/FM”, the continuation of the “Radio” that set aside his more soulful side to concentrate on a more abstract, experimental version of his discourse, containing remixes, re-readings, and new versions. Since all of the remixes that have arrived in his mail box didn’t fit in, now he is offering us “Exile Radio Bonus”, in which the rocky reading of Marco Polo stands out. It includes four unpublished cuts of the original and an avalanche of intelligent beats, radio sounds, and expressive variations that fit into a more electronic and leftfield description of the genre. And then later they tell us that we’re weighed down by purism, which we are… but still. The latest delivery from Donnis, the second in two months, isn’t precisely an exercise in orthodoxy either. We already commented last month that he looks to be a future star in the Southern sky. “Fashionably Late” keeps the expectations and hopes alive, as it is another furious, sophisticated, and accessible outburst of dirty south essence, but with an eye on the conciliating mainstream. The debut album will play hard to get, like they all do these days, given the awful situation that the industry is going through, but it’s clear to me that something worthwhile and relevant is cooking there. I’m going to top off the trio of new releases in the strictest sense of the word with “Revolutionary But Gangsta Grillz. Turn off the Radio Vol. 4”, the fourth of the series in which Dead Prez is feeding the hunger of his fans waiting for official material. The mixtape is sponsored by DJ Drama and on it, as is becoming habitual, the most progressive and lefty duet in the genre blends proclamations, vindications, complaints and allegations with the hottest beats of the moment, among them, of course, “Over”, by the super-effeminate Drake. The truth is that I don’t buy their speeches and textbook discourses, but I do recognise that this time they are in top form.
Moving on with mixtapes, but now with vintage, retro, or simply timeless material. For my taste, one of the best sessions that I’ve heard this year is “Wargames” by DJ Babu. It’s a commission for the Japanese sneakers shop Kicks Lab, located right in Harajuku, and it is one of the three mixtapes that the group Beat Junkies has done especially for the shop, and for the launching of some group caps with the firm New Era. Delicatessen. Not only for its concept and plot line, focused on the concept of war and battle, and supported by songs that have to do with this idea, either in the title or the lyrics, but also because the selection, mixing, and development are impeccable. There are classics from OC, Public Enemy, Gang Starr, Eric B & Rakim, M.O.P., Dilated Peoples or Boogie Down Productions, all solid as a rock. You stick it in your iPod when you go running, and that day you are going to fly. We can say something similar about “A Mix Called Black”, by his pal DJ Rhettmatic, the second piece in this triple collaboration (the third, in the hands of J. Rocc, will lean more towards funk), which sticks to the same profile: a concept, in this case associated with black, and a list of songs to support the initial idea. Black Sheep, Black Milk, J Dilla, Organized Konfusion or Jeru The Damaja guarantee full-on action. I haven’t attached links because I paid for them religiously, but I doubt they are hard to find. Good luck. And to finish the job, another compilation of classics: “Summertime: The Mixtape”, a joint effort of DJ Jazzy Jeff and Mick Boogie. The title gives us the clue, these are mixes of summer hits of all kinds and styles, from 70’s funk to rap fresh from the oven, without prejudices or ties. Ideal for when you’re sipping a blue Powerade under a beach umbrella.2. While you’re downloading all this material, a small aside so as not to overheat your brain with so much musical information. Here is a cocktail of news to entertain you this summer. There are all sorts of things, all frivolous enough to make you say “uncle,” ideal for killing time, material that would take up pages and pages in that hypothetical African-American “In Touch” that we’re still anxiously awaiting
a) 50 Cent got himself into trouble during his recent Brazilian tour. In barely two concerts, the New York rapper has left us with three images worthy of comment. The first one: another attempted assault, or that’s what his bodyguards say to justify why they beat up a guy, the poor devil, who approached the rapper. This is already a habitual scene in every one of his tours, and so the point isn’t the intention of the fan who gets up on stage, but rather what damage has been done to him by his league of bodyguards. The second thing also isn’t new: his dissing of P. Diddy. It seems to be open warfare and with no end in sight. Fifty is the king of free self-promotion, but with the dancer, he’s playing in the beef big leagues. The favourite, of course. And the third, which is surprising and curious: Ronaldinho is a fan of 50 Cent. Looking at the images, it seems obvious that the rapper, on the other hand, hasn’t got the least idea who’s the pudgy double of Jar Jar Binks they’ve planted at his side as a guest star.
b) Last month we said that the return of Dr. Dre augured nothing good. And we continue with that line of thought. Now we’ve seen the producer advertising the new line of HP laptops created specifically for making music. Headphones, Dr. Pepper, now computers… maybe the ex-member of N.W.A. isn’t inspired in the fishbowl, but his agent is a genius, turning him into a mine to extract dollars from. I call that copping the dough in a big way. The crux of all of this is that in the company’s TV spot you can hear the same song that was leaked a few weeks ago in the background—this time, they say, in a re-mastered version. And yes, the sound is better than the leak, but the worry and irritation aren’t gone from our faces. Ten years to reappear with this? C’mon…
c) I commented a few weeks ago about the publication of “Thank Me Later”, by Drake, that if one thing was clear about this debut, it was its shameless intention to conquer the female audience as its main commercial and musical goal. And this led to an excessively gay sound that disappointed certain expectations based on his previous mixtapes. As one famed rapper would say, Drake “has fagged out on us.” And in case any doubt remained about this, here is a video recorded in one of his last public appearances that shows that the Canadian is getting closer to becoming a phenomenon with hysterical, hormonal herds of fans than to becoming the next big thing of the rap kingdom. Did somebody say they felt embarrassed for him?
d) The prestigious magazine Forbes has published a list of the musicians who have earned the most money in the last twelve months. Among the top ten are Beyoncé and Jay-Z, in third and sixth place respectively, only surpassed by U2, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen, and Britney Spears. Not bad. The news wouldn’t have any greater importance if we weren’t coming off of a year when conspiracy lovers have been talking about nothing else besides the economic and social power held by the most important African-American couple of the moment. According to the defenders of the conspiracy theory, this corresponds to the definitive entry of both into the world of the Illuminati, the circle in the shadows that controls the world, and which they say has seduced the big hip hop representatives, also P. Diddy and Kanye West, in order to keep the African-American population sedated and under control. Soon, when time, the agenda, and the patience of the company heads allow, I promise that I will tell you more about this in a special report on the relationship between rap and the Illuminati—there’s a lot to say about it.e) We’re getting drippy. Because a year after the event, we have intercepted a video on the Internet that shows the best moments of the wedding of RZA and his wife Talani in the luxurious Santa Barbara Four Seasons. The document shouldn’t be missed, especially because of the image that we have of a guy like RZA and how we see him in these images. Roses, suites with a sea view, fusion haute cuisine, select guests, romantic music… Rap is growing up, it can’t be helped. And what would we do if we couldn’t enjoy these In Touch moments?
f) And I’ll finish this review of the sentimental section with three short, but hilarious notes. One: when it seemed that Rick Ross had recovered his credit and respect, here comes the grandson of John Gotti, whose name Ross has borrowed as a nickname for the title of his new album, and he tells us that his family didn’t like it a bit that the rapper has taken the liberty of using this nickname without having asked permission. It’s just one thing after another. Two: Bushwick Bill, the eternally pissed-off shorty from the indispensable Geto Boys, could be deported from the United States and sent to his native Jamaica. It’s only a rumour that has been gaining strength on the Internet these days after he went through the Atlanta immigration office, having had a series of problems with the law. If the news is confirmed, we’d be talking about a national tragedy. And three: he’s not famous or well-known, but the star of this video is already a real celebrity in the United States. The sequence has no story: a poor devil breaks out into a freestyle in the middle of the street, and before he gets to the third phrase, a guy comes up and gives him one of the biggest slaps we’ve seen lately. Like we said: there is no story behind it, just the guffaws and tears that the video causes. Enjoy.
3. And for pastimes to talk about during your down time under the sun, let’s get back to the real deal. More advice and recommendations, these are official and for sale. Let’s start with some titles chosen with all of the affection and intention in the world from the pile of new releases gathering next to my laptop, begging loudly for a spot on the shelf, safe from falls and accidental spills. Habitual readers of this section know about my predilection for the Canadian producer Marco Polo, promising heir to the harder boom bap tradition of the moment. These days he’s in the news for the launching of “The Stupendous Adventures of Marco Polo!”, a compilation of B-sides, remixes, and unpublished material. Ok, it doesn’t match “Port Authority”, or even his album with Torae (this usually happens with this kind of compilations), but even so, it’s still a shot of orthodox rap that is indispensable for keeping your feet on the ground during these days of metrosexual dominion. In fact, this month we have plenty of this type of material belonging to what I call ‘the resistance.’ I’ll mention them quickly and concisely, so as not to waste time. Vinnie Paz, the leader of Jedi Mind Tricks, has put out “Season of the Assassin”, a solo debut that has beats by DJ Muggs, Madlib, Lord Finesse, Da Beatminerz, MoSS or 4th Disciple, and cameos by Clipse, Beanie Sigel, Freeway or my idol, R.A. The Rugged Man. Descriptions are unnecessary: spherical beats, dramatic loops, battle rhymes, and the dancing of raging MC’s. The same thing with “Fight Music”, the new album from Reef The Lost Cauze, an MC who has come out of the Jedi Mind Tricks circle and is a member of Army Of The Pharoahes, here allied throughout the album with the producer Guns-n-Butter, who serves up a very correct selection of furious, intimidating rhymes that certify that the Philadelphia underground isn’t getting washed out. It’s predictable and very strait-laced, but I insist: these slaps are necessary when you feel overrun by so many cockteasing rapper-singers.And if there is an incorruptible point of reference, it is MF Grimm, a guy who is almost more interesting as a character than as a rapper, however much we’re talking about one of the best pens that has come up from the sewers of New York. Grimm has a new album, “You Only Live Twice”, less brilliant than its predecessors, especially because it has a one-track, excessively uniform production, but it has at least six memorable songs that justify the expense. MF Grimm is obligatory. Always. I’m going to round out this mini section dedicated to the new and not-so-new boom bap juice with two more references. PackFM isn’t a new cat in the game, but it seems that with “I Fucking Hate Rappers” he wants to take his career seriously once and for all. Better sound, better beats, and better rhymes mark a short album or mini-LP, however you want to call it, that tries to proclaim some obvious truths about the current hip hop situation. It’s a predictable discourse, but very well put together, really smooth. And I’ll finish with “At Last”, the coming-out of MC Eternia, in collaboration with the producer MoSS, one of my current favourites within the neo boom bap circle. Those faithful to this column will know that I’m not very well predisposed towards listening to female rappers’ albums. It’s not a question of sex, just like it’s not because of the language that I can’t listen to German rap. I don’t like them, and I can’t argue much more than that. But in the case at hand, the presence of MoSS guarantees a collection of beats in top form that will make the trip easier to bear. When will the instrumental version be out?
4. To top off this list of new works, I don’t want to forget the launches classified as mainstream. I don’t usually deal with them in this section, since the majority of the most interesting ones already have their place in the review section, but in the face of the accumulation of material, it’s worth shedding a little light on a small collection of titles that have their relevance and specific weight in current events. Does anybody remember Stat Quo? He was predestined to become the great star of Southern rap, in the hands of Dr. Dre and Eminem, who signed him up with the intention of making him a star. But time went by, there were delays in his debut, other artists got in his way, and his wake was totally neutralised by the damaging effects of an unrepentant industry. Three years after the date foreseen for its publication, “Statlanta” is out, on the Aftermath label, with the production of Sha Money XL and a more-than-positive balance. A corpulent dirty, very solid sound accompanies a talented MC who has nevertheless decided to temper his character and banish the ghost of beefs and revenge against Dre and Eminem. A magnificent, unpretentious album, far from the bright promotional lights, it looks to have a good chance of going unnoticed. In the United States, what hasn’t gone unnoticed is “Uni-5: The World’s Enemy”, the first recording in fifteen years from the original line-up of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. Not that I’m especially a fan of the Cleveland group, although I always loved their debut EP, sponsored by Eazy-E, but their position as an emblem of thematic gangsta soft-rap for girls deserves to be vindicated now that the combination of rap and sugary vocal phrases is in. Would Drake or Kid Cudi exist without them? Who knows? And besides, you have to recognise the album’s merits: four infallible singles, a solid discourse, and a formula that has managed to update itself very wisely. No, very good. I’ll finish this trip to the heights with Fat Joe’s “The Darkside Vol. 1”.After the resounding failure of his last launch–eight thousand measly copies sold in the United States during the first week—the Bronx MC opted for an intelligent solution for recovering ground and credit: to beef up the collection of producers and promote a more credible, coherent sound. Just Blaze, DJ Premier, Cool & Dre or Buckwild second the motion and help him get by with a certain impact. Far, far away are the days of “Represent” or “Jealous One’s Envy”, but at least he isn’t making a fool of himself anymore.
5. My space is running out and they’re going to kick me out, but before lowering the blinds, I’ll tell you that the next issue of this column is going to be entirely retro. Taking advantage of the fact that August is a terrible month for new releases, and that a lot of juicy retrospective material is piling up, I have decided to make the next “Hugs and Thugs” into a little retro refuge stuffed with record re-issues, unexpected returns, commemorative sessions, and exciting trips to the past. I’ll be waiting for you, don’t bail out on me