Monday, 23 July 2007

Whatever Happened To The (Female) MC's?

First things first. This is not another rant about where all the female MC's have gone.

I've never been a big fan of femcees. Apart from Lauryn Hill, the rest just seem to fit the perfect stereotype of a female hip hop MC, i.e. lyrics full of sexual innuendo, how great it is to be a pimpess, etc. Leaders in this particular field include Remy Ma, Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown & Trina.

In the mid-to-late 90's, this was the only type of solo female you were able to listen to. Lil' Kim got a 5 mic score in The Source (how???), and Foxy was making her name with Mr. Hip Hop. The likes of MC Lyte, Queen Latifah and Sha-Rock disappeared to be replaced by these much more alpha females. I don't know how this shift came about, and don't care, but it happened none-the-less. It happened to coincide with the rising popularity of hip hop in the mainstream, and as a result, the masses who didn't listen to hip hop came to see these females as the standard female MC.

What a bitch.

Coming into the 00's though, the more thoughtful females broke through. Jean Grae, formerly known as What? What? (worst MC name ever? Maybe...) and member of group Natural Resource, dropped her first solo LP in 2002 entitled, 'Attack of the Attacking Things'. She has since dropped three further albums/bootlegs, and has appeared on tracks with The Roots, Masta Ace, and Immortal Technique, but to name a few.

Others are taking notes, and the 00's also brought us Ms. Dynamite from the UK, Tiye Phoenix, the replacement for the respected Apani B of Polyrhythm Addicts, and Canadian MC Eternia. Considering what I've heard from these artists thus far, things are looking good (no pun intended), and the future of the femcee seems to be looking up. I just hope that the upcoming females admire these newer MC's, rather than their predecessors. These newer MC's have shown that a woman's role in hip hop goes beyong singing catchy hooks, and can express themselves in the verses.

I must say that I'm not trying to say that there is no room for the MC's like Lil' Kim, Remy Ma, etc, but when they're all saying the same thing, somebody needs to really do something a little more varied. I really think that there is a much wider scope to develop, and the future femcees will have no shortage of subject matter.

Today's album post...

Psalm One - The Death Of Frequent Flyer

By now, the more of informed of readers must have been thinking how I forgot about Psalm One. Good things come to those who wait!
Hailing from Chi-Town, Psalm One's 'The Death Of Frequent Flyer' represents her third solo LP. She is currently signed on the respected Rhymesayers roster, alongside well-established artists such as MF Doom and Atmosphere. Having majored in Chemistry at the University of Illinois, you know that this album is not going to be the pimpess-type album.
It was hard to choose which album to upload between this and Jean Grae's 'This Week'. Both are stellar examples of new-school femcee albums, but this album one through simply because I like Psalm One's sharper beats, rather than the 9th Wonder-laden 'This Week' album. It is hard to separate the two on quality of rhymes/sound of voice.
I could have actually saved writing the entire post above, and replaced with the lyrics to the song 'Rapper Girls'. Here, Psalm One expresses her discontent with the current crop of femcees. As Psalm One eloquently puts it...
"Never be more than that girl who raps 'good for a girl',
But really those titties is giving wood to the world,
They keep you around to prevent a sausage fest,
And you'll do just fine cos of the gloss and chest"
Ouch. Fellow Rhymesayer Brother Ali features on 'Standby'. By now, anyone who has heard Ali knows that he can spit, and any MC, male or female, would have trouble keeping up with him. However, Psalm ups the bar and manages it quite effortlessly. The two actually compliment each other very well on what sounds like an Ant beat. The rest of the production is handled by underground producers Overflo, Madd Crates & V-Traxx. I especially like the beat on 'Rap Girls', which samples a Bollywood singer on a loop.
Fellow femcee Ang13 features on 'Prelude To A Diss', in which the two discuss the current crop of female MC's ("I hate these muthafuckers"). My favourite cut on the album is 'Peanuts', in which Psalm vents about her rise in the industry. It features a simple beat, and lets Psalm One shine lyrically.

So, if you were like me, I thought female MC's had nothing to offer: Think again. This album will keep you listening long enough until Columbia decide to release Lauryn Hill's new joint.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

"I’m Not A Rapper, I’m A Hustler Who Raps"

The title of this post comes courtesy of Mr. Hip Hop itself, Jay-Z. Allow me to use this post to express my feelings on one of the most stupid things I constantly read about how today's rappers see themselves in our society.
Lemme get this clear first of all; a person growing up in the hood aspires to eventually move out of there, by getting some cash in the shortest time possible. Since the legal way of getting money takes quite a lot of time, and requires you to work your ass off, some people prefer to go the illegal route, and sell drugs, become pimps, etc. If you are lucky enough to be able to spit, this is your way out, and it's legal too!
So, I don't know about you, but if I had to choose between being a rapper or a pusher, I would really thank God for giving me the ability to string some sentences together in a way that sounds good. But why do so many rappers today go and call themselves gangsters, thugs, hustlers, etc? And why do they still carry on doing the stupid shit they would do as when they living in the hood, as opposed to Beverly Hills?

Case in point, Remy Ma. I'm sure you've heard what happened to her (if not, click here). Over $2000? I know every penny counts and all, but c'mon, I'm sure she could have done without. It definately wasn't worth all this trouble. Give your friend the 2 grand, release a half asses album, and recoup your money (and then some). Easy.

Honourable mention goes out to DMX. This guy lives the phrase, 'You can get the man outta the hood, but you can't get the hood outta the man'. Anything he does now doesn't surprise me, and I actually look forward to hearing what new adventure (read: dumb shit) he getting himself into now. Also, The Game must be commended for consistantly reminding us that, "I'm a hustler, not a rapper". Kudos to you, 'nuff respect.

On to today's album post...

Looptroop - Fort Europa

Some European hip hop for your ass.
Fort Europa is a hip hop group hailing from Sweden. The group consisted of four members; Promoe, Supreme, Cosmic & Embee (Cosmic has since left). Fort Europa is the groups 3rd major album release. Although this album received some very mixed reviews, and was not as welcomed as their previous two releases, I decided to post this one because it remains the easiest to listen to for newcomers to the group.
First off, I have to start with the intro. It has got to be one of my favourite intros ever. A simple ping pong ball bouncing develops into this crazy rhythm, gathering speed, until the ball sound stops with the sound of a piece of glass smashing. That sounds like such a shit description, but you really have to hear it for yourself to understand.
Although this is a good album, I think it relates much more to Europeans than Americans, and many of the political tracks talk more about the situation in Europe than America ('Hurricane Bush' being the exception). I like this idea, because it shows that Looptroop are not hell-bent on making America their major audience, and shows loyalty to their core fans. The album title itself describes how Europe closes itself off from the rest of the world.
Overall, this album is very hit and miss. There are some outstanding tracks ('Hurricane George', 'Night Train', 'Chana Masala', etc), but then there are an equal number of fillers ('Sparkplug', 'Heavy Rains', 'Unilateral Communication', etc). Coming to think of it, it's quite top-heavy in my opinion.
So overall, this is a B+ effort. Good but could do better.
Peace out.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

The Classics

Five years ago, if you asked somebody, "What are the classic hip hop albums?", you probably expect the following list...

The Low End Theory
The Chronic
3 Feet High & Rising
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back

Nowadays, if you asked somebody the same question, you'd probably expect this list...I
The Low End Theory
The Chronic
3 Feet High & Rising
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
Can you see any similarities?
It seems that hip hop is stuck in some kind of warped reality. Although the number of hip hop listeners in the world and the sheer amount of material being released must be rising all the time, it seems that when people are asked this question, there is a 'list' that must be learnt, and anything released in (at least) the last 5 years cannot be included.
Although I do believe that people try not to mention their personal favourites for fear of being ridiculed (the internet is a hostile environment for the budding hip hop fan), I think that there is a more underlying reason as to why there have been no 'modern' classic hip hop albums. Bear with me as I try to explain...
Most people see 1994 as the peak of hip hop, the Golden year in the Golden Era. It seems that nobody could do wrong when they released an album in this year. It is also the focus of the whole 'hip hop is dead' argument, whose advocates state that this was the pinnacle of hip hop music, and everything since has been going downhill. I don't argue that this year saw some of the best material heard since '88 (such as the aforementioned 'Illmatic', 'The Sun Rises In The East', 'Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)', I literally could go on and on), but stating that there hasn't been any classics since then is plain crazy.
As hip hop began to gain a larger worldwide audience due to artist such as Eminem, 50 Cent, etc, the range of music classified as hip hop has sky rocketed. There are so many sub-categories now, it's hard to keep track of all of them. Jazzy hip hop, Horrorcore, Grime, the list is endless. As people began to use the internet to download more and more music, it seems that it's not enough saying, "I like hip hop". Now you've gotta like a SPECIFIC kind of hip hop. As the huge pool of hip hop fans sub-categorise themselves into these specific areas, it is now impossible to find an album that EVERYONE will like. Back in the mid-nineties, there was just hip hop, and everybody generally liked the same thing. Therefore, albums like 'Illmatic' was considered great, and nobody argued. Nowadays, some new-school cats may not feel it at all (I've heard everything from, 'the beats are boring' to 'Nas is overrated' call ANY Premo beats boring is, in my opinion, blasphemy), and why would they? They wern't around when that album dropped, and cannot relate at all. They may prefer to listen to Necro, Ill Bill, etc, and that's their choice.

So now each sub-category has it's classic albums, and the classic hip hop album no longer exists...or does it?

On to today's album post...

One.Be.Lo - S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M.

One.Be.Lo, formerly known as OneManArmy and one half of Binary Star, dropped this gem in 2005. It is, in my opinion, a classic. You may think that these two facts are mutually exclusive, but no. I said it, and I'll say it again. It's a fucking classic from 2005.
'S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M.' (Sounds Of Nahshid Originate Good Rhymes And Music) is Lo's first full length LP. When I first heard One.Be.Lo on Binary Star, I wasn't immediately struck by his MC skills. In fact, I thought that Senim Silla was the better half of the group, and couldn't imagine either of them doing a solo project, as they worked very well together, and their name suggested that they would be sticking together as a duo. However, after being fucked around by their record label, and what I think only as being creative differences between the two, Lo decided to concentrate on a solo project that resulted in this album.
In between the release of 'Masters Of The Universe' and 'S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M.', Lo converted to Islam, and it is clear that this had a tremendous effect on him with the number of references to Islam on this LP. Although I don't normally like it when MC's get too religeous, Lo pulls it off without sounding too preachy. His greatest skill remains the clearness of his voice combined with his effortless rhyming skills. For example, on 'enecS eht no kcaB', Lo spits...
"Thinkin' I'm dissin' 'cause I ain't feelin' the shit they spittin'
Know the difference between dissin' and constructive criticism
They should try to pen-a-written that can fit-the-rhythm
Too busy tryin' to hit the ism, hit the women
Feminine get the Benjamin's, watch my SUB-Zero
Finish 'em, finish 'em, finish 'em, finish 'em..."
There's no need to hit rewind button (does it still exist?), everything can be heard the first time. No matter how complicated the rhyme pattern becomes, Lo never loses his skill of saying the WHOLE word with clarity. The album is full of political attacks ('Sleepwalking'), self-consciousness among the black community ('The Ghetto'), and attitudes towards racism in the US ('Axis'). One of my favourite tracks on the album from a lyrical perspective has got to be 'Evil Of Self' which features Abdus Salaam. Lo highlights his creativity by constructing a story using the thoughts/mentalities that all of us feel at one time or another. It has got to be one my favourite tracks of all time.
I am sure that regardless of what type of hip hop you listen to, you will at least appreciate how good this album is. So, the next time someone says to you, "Where has all the good hip hop gone?", reply by saying, "It's there, you just ain't looking hard enough brotherman".
Peace out.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

The Eternal Argument Continues...

After reading Rasul's thought-provoking article on When They Reminisce (check it out here), I felt compelled to continue the debate that must affect every single MC out there...

Go mainstream or stay underground?

Think about it. You're an aspiring young rapper, just breaking through, making small ripples in the hip hop ocean. You are young and idealistic, and believe hip hop is all about great lyrics, and bangin' beats. You've released a couple of independent EP's (you don't fuck with mixtapes, they belong to the average shitty rapper), and are ready to make your big break by releasing your debut full-length LP. At this moment in time, your EP's have gained critical acclaim by internet heads, and you are being touted as the next (insert your favourite rapper's name here). You've completed 90% of your album, and are now looking for a record label to sign with. Now, check it, you have two options...

Option 1: You sign with an indie. You go on to complete your album the way you envisioned it, and the album goes to press. When it's released, the reviews run out of superlatives to describe it, and it goes on to sell a couple thousand copies. Still not enough to allow you to quit your day job just yet. Spurred on by the relative success of your debut, you go on tour around the country with other underground artists of the day. You've made some money on tour, after a few more solo gigs, you manage to become a full-time MC. A few guest appearances are made on other underground albums, and you begin to start writing for your second album. Your label makes more of an effort to push this album after the success of the first. However, reviews for this sophomore release are not quite as good as for previous, and critics say that the album, although a solid release, does not quite have the creativity provided by the first album. Internet heads nod their head in agreement. The album goes on to sell slightly better than the first. Not down-hearted, you change your style up for a third release, determined to prove that you're not a one-trick pony. The album is supported by the indie label, and it is publicised as your rebirth. This time, critics take a lash at your effort, saying that the new style is, for a better word, wack, and argue that you will never quite make anything that will match your first release. The internet heads agree once again. The label dumps you, and feeling depressed with the world, you end up killing yourself. At the tender age of 28, life has passed you by.

Option 2: You sign with a major. The first thing you do is let your Mickey D's manager know that you're quitting your job, by letting him know that he suck some part of your anatomy. You go on to show the major your work so far on the LP, but they insist that some changes be made. A few of the political songs are cut, and some shake-ya-baaty tunes are included, for the women of course. You reluctantly agree, and the album goes to press. The major pushes the album strongly, describing it as 'the return of real hip hop'. The reviews come out, with critics saying that the album seems to be an above average release, with glimpses of skill shown on (incidentally) some of the original tracks recorded. The major decides to release the radio-friendly tunes, and soon your videos (with groupies, guns, and bling as standard) hit MTV, BET, and fill out the clubs. Internet heads wonder what the hell has happened to you, and you are instantly labelled as a sell-out. The album goes on to sell a couple million. The major is impresses, but thinks you could have done better. After reading some of the feedback from the beloved internet heads, you approach the major with the idea of making a more conscience second album, with more politics / less booty-shakin'. The major is enthuthiastic about the idea, and you go on to start the writing for the album. However, when you finish up the final details and play the album to the major, they seem uncertain about the tone of the music. The album is delayed, and eventually never gets to see the light of day. You leave the major, and hope to release the album on an indie. But with your credibility gone after your 'club rapper' image, they decline. Feeling depressed with the world, you end up killing yourself. At the tender age of 28, life has passed you by.

Of course, both of these situations are hypothetical (and have an exaggerated ending), but interesting none-the-less. It is indeed a fine line between credibility and selling out.

On to today's album post.

Masta Ace - A Long Hot Summer

With reference to my rant above, I think that Masta Ace holds the title, most mainstream underground. His career, in my opinion, is the perfect way to balance mainstream success with appreciation from the underground. In essence, he is Mr. Keepin' It Real.
And he knows it. On my favourite cut from the album, 'Beautiful', Ace spits...
"I rise up above
See, people still showin' me love
Get the respect without droppin' a check
This hip hop thing might stop in a sec
So this brand new hit, you can pop in the deck
It's beautiful"
It is indeed beautiful. I overlooked this album for the story post, but have no doubt, this is one of the best story-telling albums out. The album follows Ace's adventure with friend Fats Belvedere, and eventually ending up in a prison cell.
Some people may question whether Masta Ace can be considered to be underground, but whatever. In my opinion, an MC is underground if you don't hear their releases played on MTV or the radio 24/7. Anyway, anyone who wants to start listening to different kinds of hip hop, I would strongly recommend starting with this album right here. The reason why so many people like Masta Ace is that he is easy to listen to compared to some other underground artists, and he also sounds great. This is by no means disrespectful to the Ace, but a compliment in that he does not need to over-complicate things.
Besides 'Beautiful', other nice cuts on this album include 'Soda And Soap' featuring Jean Grae (where have all the female MCs gone?), where Ace drops various drink names in the first verse, and washing products in the second. So he's still using his creative sides, and further evidence is heard in 'Brooklyn Masala', a story where Ace describes falling for a Asian chick.
So, aspiring MCs take note: use Ace's career as a guide to help you make good music, and gain commercial success at the same time.

Monday, 2 July 2007

The World Is Yours

After writing this blog, I only now just realised how difficult it is to give an opinion of your own about something. As Oscar Wilde said...

"Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation"
After reading countless reviews and people posting their thoughts on a number of different albums, it's incredible the albums that the majority of people like, and dislike. It is increasingly difficult to interpret somebody's opinion as their own, or something that they've just read, and found it to sound so convincing, that they just simply repeat it when said topic is talked about amongst peers. It seems that if a small number of influential people agree on the quality of a particular album, the majority will simply become parrots and echo these thoughts.

Obviously, there are times when the majority of people are right. For example, Nas's 'Ilmatic' deservedly appears on more than 90% of listener's all-time Top Ten albums, as it is acclaimed by both hip hop journalists and first time listeners. But if you don't happen to like it, you don't have to feel as if you're missing something, and make excuses for liking it. It is critical that an album does something for YOU, and then base a review of that album on your personal feelings while listening to it. If you hate it, you hate it.

It is a very rare thing for someone to express something about an album that hasn't already been said, but also makes sense at the same time. This is what every reviewer aims to do, and hopefully I can add something to the albums that I post on this site, which you haven't already read elsewhere. I love reading other people's reviews of albums before I actually give it a listen. Why? Well just to see how others people's thoughts differ to mine when I actually give it a spin.

Lastly, don't trust my reviews anyway. The best way to review an album is to actually listen to it! So go download, and make your own opinions.

Edan - Beauty And The Beat

First off, that cover has got to be one of my favourite covers ever, the psychadelic feel is just awesome.
Edan hails from Boston, and is a rare thing in hip hop nowadays. He's an MC, DJ, and producer, the triple threat. 'Beauty And The Beat' represents his second full length LP, following the largely over-looked but equally good 'Primitive Plus'. On first listen of this album, you will immediately notice that it does not conform to the standards of today's hip hop album. Drum machines, sequencers, looping samples? In 2005? I don't think so.
If you have previously heard 'Primitive Plus', you probably already know that Edan knows his history, and respects his elders (on 'Ultra '88', he pays tribute to the Ultramagnetic MC's, and constantly pays tribute to Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, etc throughout the record). This trend continues on 'Beauty And The Beat', with my favourite track, 'Fumbling Over Words That Rhyme', consisting over a roll-call on the who's who of hip hop, over a straight trippy sample.
The lead single from this album is 'I See Colours', in which Edan almost instantly states, "Prince Paul already used this loop...", again paying his dues. Edan uses the sample from the popular nursury rhyme of the same name, and slows down his flow, to make you feel like a kid all over again.
The general mood while listening to this album is one of nostalgia. Edan's voice takes you back to a time when hip hop was raw and relentless. He literally spits his lyrics, as heard in 'Promised Land', and uses the drum and sequencers precisely to create a eerie and delusional atmosphere. Features are at a minimum, with Percee P, Insight and Mr. Lif dropping by to contribute some verses.
But at the end of the day, this is Edan's album. A testament to the old school.