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Thursday
Apr042013

30 Day Song Challenge: Day 4

Track all of the picks here

 

A Song That Makes You Sad - Slum Village "Reunion"

The story of Slum Village's trials and tribulations is one that is way too long for this post but a lot of it was laid out openly and honestly on "Reunion". At the time the group, by now reduced to just T3 and Elzhi, released Detroit Deli, a proper reunion seemed welcome. It was great hearing Jay Dee back with SV, if only for just one song, and while it was reportedly supposed to include Baatin as well, it sadly never happened. And that's a damn shame because Black Milk laid down one hell of a beat for the occasion.

But the most eye-opening, and perhaps tragic, moment comes during Elzhi's closing verse directed towards Baatin. While initially perceived as a diss towards his former group member, it was an open letter to a friend that had lost his way outside of the music. It was both a plea to Baatin to get his life in order and it also gave fans a peek into the rumors surrounding his absence in the group. Just like in any family, reunions are meant to be a time for reminsicing and appreciation of your loved ones but it can also bring up issues that linger and most of us would rather ignore. SV is undoubtedly one of this generations most influential groups and it's sad that one of their last times together on record took such a turn - but it's also where the beauty in such a remarkable song lies.

 

 

 

-Gravity

Wednesday
Apr032013

30 Day Song Challenge: Day 3

Track all of the picks here

 

A Song That Makes You Happy - Tom Scott "Today"

This song ties back to my day 1 selection, but if you're a true head then you already knew that when you saw today's pick. Put aside the fact that it inspired one of Hip Hop's masterpieces, this gem by Tom Scott is an incredible song in its own right. The beautiful songwriting and Scott's mastery of the sax combine to create something that, for me, can't be described. Admittedly, a lot of it has to do with what the song means to a Hip Hop junkie like myself, but as it plays on you can't help but get drawn in and fall in love with it the way I'm sure Pete Rock did on his first listen. It's a sample that a few have tried to reinterpret but it's almost universally recognized by enthusiasts as something that can't ever be touched again. It was as if Pete Rock, inspired and motivated by the death of his friend, was meant to find this record and create something that couldn't be topped. This song makes me happy not just for the genius that it sparked, but because it opened me up to a song I might not ever have discovered on my own. It's a reminder of the endless world of music that exists and that I know, sadly, I'll never fully experience in my lifetime; that feeling is both daunting and invigorating.

 

 

 

-Gravity

Tuesday
Apr022013

30 Day Song Challenge: Day 2

Track all of the 30 picks here

 

Your Least Favorite Song - Jay-Z & Kanye West "Niggas In Paris"

This right here......having to post this right here hurts me down to my soul (but I guess this is why it's called a "challenge", right?). Just as yesterday was hard to pick only one song I could probably make a month-long list of songs that I absolutely despise. So while narrowing it down to just one proved tough, I had to go with a selection that has to be one of the biggest pieces of basura I've heard within the last few years.

I won't go into my whole rant about why my hate for this song rivals my hate for obnoxious Raider and Dodger fans (one and the same, really), Drake, Rush Limbaugh, Glee and guavas (yes, guavas). But I can tell you that the moment the first few notes of this song play are ones that make me wonder how something this bad can even be considered music to begin with. Now look, I don't mind "ignorant" music - there's a place and a time for that - but this is even beyond Gucci Mane/Waka Flocka-level ignorance. If the song were actually good I could forgive the mind-numbing stupidity of the lyrics from two of Hip Hop's biggest talents, but you can only ask so much of me.

To this day, I still think Jay and Ye made the most terrible song they could possibly think of ("think" is being used loosely here) on purpose just to see how many dumbasses would buy into it. If this was some kind of social experiment to make us realize just how low the average Hip Hop listeners' standards have dropped, then maybe Mr. Carter and Mr. West are a lot smarter than I give them credit for.

 

 

 

-Gravity

Monday
Apr012013

30 Day Song Challenge: Day 1

Been away for a minute and trying to get back into the swing of things and thought I'd start it up again with this 30 Day Song Challenge I heard about some time ago. Don't recall exactly where I found it but I kept it in mind and thought it'd be fun to give it a shot. It'll skew a bit more on the Hip Hop side (of course) but some of these choices will venture out into other genres. And a word of warning: they're not all going to be GOOD songs, so it should be interesting to say the least. Hope you guys dig it and keep an eye out for more content on deck. I know I keep saying that but I'm on it now. For real. I'm serious.

 

Your Favorite Song - Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth "T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You)"

It's virtually impossible to pick a favorite song. While there are a few songs I can think of that I could probably listen to on an endless loop and never fall out of love with there are way too many to single out just one. But there is one song that I can think of that has always stuck in my mind as damn near perfection: Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth's undeniable classic "T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You)". Not only is the Tom Scott sample out of this world, but the emotion the song evokes in remembering lost loved ones is hard to deny. Pete Rock's drumwork is impeccable and C.L. Smooth provides some of his finest verses at the most opportune time. The song is dope, without question, but it's what the track means where its beauty shines through. All the pieces fell into place to make this song a milestone of the genre.

 

 

 

-Gravity

Wednesday
Dec192012

Gift Guide For The Hip Hop Nerd

In conjunction with my better half over at Beats.Style.Life., we've put together this gift guide for the male and/or female Hip Hop head in your life.  To check things on the female side, head over to her post here.

 

With Christmas a little less than a week away now a lot of you may still be looking for that perfect gift for the Hip Hop nerd in your life.  What's a Hip Hop nerd?  While I (obviously) am a Hip Hop junkie, I have a passion for other things as well (as do other fellow Hip Hop enthusiasts).  Pretty much anything pop culture is the name of the game - from movies to comic books to video games, Hip Hop is influenced by many of the things we grew up loving as kids and the proof is in the music itself.  While a lot of us didn't have the means back then to scoop all the things our hearts desired we can more than make up for it now as there seems to be no end to the number of items we crave.  While my girl schooled you on the gifts for the ladies, here's a shopping guide for the Hip Hop nerd in your life, be it for the upcoming holiday or any other occasion.

 

 1)  Fresh Gear

       Price Range:  How much you got?

No matter how nerdy the Hip Hop head in your life is, he needs to look the part.  Whether he's already got his style on lock and needs a re-up on some threads or he needs a little help in the style department, just put in a little time and you'll see that finding some dope gear isn't all that hard.  Personally, it took me a while to figure out what looks worked for me so it can take some doing depending on just how well you know or don't know the person's taste that you're shopping for.  While I usually don't like letting people in on my secrets as far as where I get new clothes crazy cheap, I'll give you just a few (but not all): my go-to's are always PLNDR and/orJack Threads, no doubt.  While JT is just a bit pricier, you'll still find good deals if you dig hard enough, but PLNDR, an off-shoot of streetwear powerhouseKarmaloop, has insane deals on the daily.  While they don't always have exactly what you might be looking for, they offer plenty of variety from A LOT of the biggest brands around and if you dig a little you'll find some hidden gems - trust me.  And if you want a bunch of awesome daily deals across hundreds of web sites compiled for you in one place, swing by the recently launched Streetwear Deals site brought to you by the fine folks over at Kicks Deals (one of the greatest sites ever. Seriously).  While their options for ground shipping would arrive too late for X-mas, you still have express shipping if you need it in a hurry.  If not, keep these sites in mind for a future reference.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
2)  Movies
     
     Price Range:  $7.99 For Unlimited Streaming                                                                                   
What other medium has been as big of an influence on Hip Hop as movies?  You usually can't go more than one song without at least a couple of film quotes or references peppered in, so this is pretty much a no-brainer.  It may seem kind of obvious, but does your guy have a Netflix subscription yet?  Seeing as how you can stream their service to just about any electronic device at this point (Xbox/PS3, iPhone, laptop, etc.), there's no reason any movie lover should be without it.  And in case you're afraid he might dump you soon, there are no contracts so you can cancel at any time (just kidding).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
3)  TV
     
     Price Range: Poster - $25/ Box Set - $100                                                                                     
If you consider yourself a TV lover and haven't seen The Wire yet, you need to reconsider your love for the medium.  I probably sound like a broken record to the people that know me or that follow me on Twitter at this point, but I still say that from beginning to end it's the best show I've ever seen.  Maybe you know a guy who's already a huge fan...so you want to know what'd be a perfect gift?  How about this "All In The Game" poster with 52 hand drawn sketches of just about all the main characters we came to love over the course of the show's five seasons.  There's no Randy or Namond (no Slim Charles!) and a few others I'm sure, but this is as great as gifts can get for any Wire fan.  If your guy's not a fan yet, get him the sweet box set and let him, and maybe yourself, discover what the hype is all about.  Incidentally, I wouldn't be mad at finding one of those posters under my Christmas tree.  Seriously.  I'm not kidding.  For real.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
4)  Nerd Alert                                                                                                                                        
      Price Range:  $150-$400                                                                                                                
It's almost guaranteed that if you're a guy and you love Hip Hop then you love Star Wars; it's a cultural milestone and one of the most influential pieces of art we've ever known.  This might be a little too nerdy for some, but man...how can you not be in love with the idea of a LEGO Millennium Falcon or Death Star sitting on display in your crib?  I've wanted one of these (or both, I should say) for years now but I've never had the guts to make that kind of financial investment in some colored blocks (just look at those prices!).  But if you're willing to splurge, why not?  But, again, I wouldn't be mad at finding one of these under my Christmas tree.  Seriously.  I'm not kidding.  For real.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
5)  Video Games                                                                                                                                    
     Price Range: $15.95 and up/monthly                                                                                                
While I still play video games here and there, there was a time where I was an addict and, judging from sales numbers, video games show no signs of slowing down.  If you're a sneakerhead, you know how expensive a hobby that can be...but become a video game addict and I bet you it can give kicks a run (no pun intended) for its money when they're going for $60 a pop.  Consider that there are multiple releases on an almost monthly basis and it can get ugly real quick if you're shopping for a fiend that absolutely, positively has to have the latest and greatest on release day.  If you know someone like that, how about a subscription to Gamefly?  To put it simply: it's Netflix for video games with the added touch of being able to keep and buy the game if you love it.  If you know someone who plays a ton of games and they don't already have a subscription, you might just blow their minds and satisfy their needs with this one.  Problem solved.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
6)  Books                                                                                                                                              
      Price Range:  $119-$139                                                                                                                  
I hate to admit it, but people don't read much anymore.  If it's not in bite-sized chunks on the Net or available instantly, there is so much information to take in that it's hard getting people to sit down, take it easy for a moment and enjoy a good book.  I personally made it a mission for myself about two years ago to make a concerted effort to get back into reading and I've stuck to it pretty well.  I can tell you it doesn't matter if it's a newspaper, a magazine, a novel - the benefits of reading are tremendous: improved grammar and spelling, comprehension, increased vocabulary, etc.  And that applies to you no matter how old you are.  While, sadly, bookstores are disappearing, the digital age has opened up the door for cool new reading devices.  While the iPad and Kindle Fire are unquestionably dope, I have a love for e-ink displays that replicate so incredibly the feel and look of text on paper.  While I always liked and wanted an original Kindle, my main factor for not buying one was that it wasn't back lit...until now.  The newly introduced Kindle Paperwhite is fresh, affordable and looks incredible.  If the guy you're shopping for doesn't read much then maybe this isn't an instant buy, but if you'd love to get him into the habit or you want to feed his reading obsession already, this is a nice choice.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
-Gravity
Monday
Nov192012

The Definition: Wu-Tang Clan - "Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)"

The Definition will be a running series recounting albums that have made the biggest impact on me and became highly influential in my life as a Hip Hop junkie.  To put it simply, these are the albums that define me and my generation.

 

 

This past November 9th marked the 19th anniversary of two of Hip Hop's most influential and genre-defining albums:  A Tribe Called Quest's seminal Midnight Marauders (which I'll cover in a future edition of this series) and Wu-Tang Clan's introduction to the world, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).

To say the impact their debut would make was unexpected is putting it lightly.  How could a group of eight emcees (a rarity in those days), who combined their penchant for rhyming along with their love of old Kung Fu flicks, possibly break through a genre that was dominated at the time by the west coast's resurgence via the G-Funk Era?  

By providing something that was the polar opposite.  

While Dr. Dre and the Death Row camp rode in their Impalas to uptempo, funk-inspired beats, the Wu painted their canvas with a much darker brush as they cruised the streets in MPVs and Land Cruisers.

Being a West Coast native, I, like the rest of the country, was caught up with the newfound energy Los Angeles injected into Hip Hop in 1992 upon the release of The Chronic.  And way before the media helped perpetuate the East Coast/West Coast power struggle into the ugliness it became, I felt a sense of pride to know I hailed from the city sitting atop the Hip Hop world.  But it took the stark imagery in the video for "Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'" to let me know a change was coming.  I didn't know anything about this group I first discovered on Yo! MTV Raps, and they didn't make it easier by mostly covering their faces in white, featureless masks (similar to their now iconic album cover), but I knew these guys were worth keeping an eye on.  Over the next few months single after single, video after video dropped and a Yo! half-hour special on the group (which I watched ENDLESSLY) made my anticipation grow to unbearable levels.  But my limited resources at the time kept me from getting my hands on a tape I coveted like very few ever in my life.

Finally on my birthday in August of 1994 I convinced my pops to drive me to The Wherehouse (R.I.P.) to cop a cassette I was intent on listening to until my ears bled.  I can recall so vividly popping the tape into my walkman, hitting play and getting lost in the world RZA's beats transported me to.  Gone were the sunshine and palm trees that surrounded me as Ghost's no-holds-barred opening verse on the riot-starting "Bring Da Ruckus" kicked me square in the teeth.  It became clear as each member gradually made their appearance on the album that none of the guys were slouches on the mic - NONE (yes, even U-God in his limited contribution).  From ODB's unorthodox flow, Method Man's exuberance and undeniable charisma to GZA's intellectualness and precision, the Wu made it hard to believe that a crew this size could be this talented top to bottom.

The first half of the tape rolled on in my headphones and all the pieces fell into place - every track, down to the smallest component, made sense and hit its mark.  To this day I still can't explain what happened once side B of that tape started...but the sonic gem that is "Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'" hit and my world was never the same.  From the background chant (OOH AAH OOH AAH) accompanied by those drums, once the spacey almost dream-like piano stabs hit, I knew I was listening to a masterpiece like no other.

 

 

For the first and last time I can remember, I had to stop the tape, take off my headphones and let it all sink in.  I can look back now and know that was the moment everything changed for me.  It wasn't that track in particular, but everything that led up to it that made me realize this was something special.  It's a shame that at this point we've seen and heard almost everything as far as Hip Hop goes; not that new music can't be great but it's just a matter of how it's presented to us now.  We probably won't see the kind of innovation the Golden Era provided so it's difficult to make someone understand now what it is to hear something unlike you've ever heard before in your life.  It's milestones like "C.R.E.A.M." that pushed the boundaries of Hip Hop production at the time and changed the game forever.

 

 

RZA's unbelievable talent behind the boards shined through and it still remains one of his crowning achievements.  It was at once so bleak and minimalist, but so complex and mature at the same time and it's that magic act that hypnotizes for the duration of 36 Chambers.  But great production goes well with great emceeing and seemingly every member (yes, even U-God) has one or more memorable verses.  For as varied as the sound was, so were the lyrics and each member knew their role, providing bars that made us feel genuine emotion (listening to Deck talk about being a teen handcuffed in the back of a bus on his way to jail...need I say more?) and by the time the album ended they had painted a picture so vivid, I swore I had lived through each and every story along with them.  The Wu was special because no matter your taste, there was at least one member that was your favorite and appealed to you in some way.

 

 

I listened to 36 Chambers more times than I can recall the rest of that summer in '94 and while I knew then that what these guys had created was something special, little did I know the heights they would reach.  Following the success of their debut effort, each member was able to secure their own solo deal outside of their label as a group - something that was unheard of at the time.  It also sparked what I believe to be the greatest run any single producer in Hip Hop has ever had.  While it's debatable, it's tough to argue against the fact that RZA went on to almost single-handedly produce every album in that first wave of solo releases: Tical, Return To The 36 Chambers, Only Built For Cuban Linx..., Liquid Swords and Ironman.  Tell me...who's fucking with that?  These just weren't half-assed albums cashing in on the group's success - each and every one went on to become an undisputed classic.  No doubt RZA has peers that have managed to stay relevant all these years later (Preem, Pete Rock, etc.) but when you take into account that he did this within about a four-year span culminating with the release of their follow-up Wu-Tang Forever in 1997, I think it's something no other producer can touch (maybe...maaaaaybe Marley Marl comes closest).  Just on a level of sheer innovation, consistency and cultural significance, it's unlikely we'll ever see anything like it again in this or any lifetime.

While it's comforting to know that a whole new generation of Hip Hop fanatics have gone on to appreciate the Wu-Tang Clan's influence, I'm blessed to say I got to live through and experience that era firsthand.  The mark they left in the game is undeniable and almost twenty years later their legacy is still felt the world over.  A lot of people caught the vapors late, but I'm proud to say I was a fan from the beginning.  And how could I possibly forget that?  36 Chambers influenced me like almost nothing else and I still judge music by the standards it set.  From their style, to the nicknames, beats, THE SKITS!...a lot of sharks took their bites, but no one could do it quite the same.

To look back and recall a moment that changed your life so significantly is an incredible feeling. Some people find their calling in religion, politics or multiple other things - I discovered the 36 Chambers.

 

 

-Gravity

Sunday
Mar042012

Currently In Rotation: 2011 & REWIND Leftovers

With all the year-end hype of a couple of months ago, there were a number of albums that invariably I just couldn't get around to, so this post will go over a few noteworthy releases that passed me by the first time.  Also, with a couple of REWIND posts on the horizon, there were a few albums that didn't quite make the cut but thought I'd cover regardless.

 

 

Koncept - Awaken

With a steady stream of solo releases in 2011 and the fantastic group effort Brown Bag Season Volume One, it's safe to say Brown Bag is killin' it.  Koncept, already having released an EP, came through with his proper solo release and it proves to be a fine effort.  The production, courtesy of Brown Bag affiliates J57 and Audible Doctor (and one certified banger from Marco Polo), is top notch.  But Koncept proves his worth by dropping some deeply personal bars over tracks, as evidenced on "Save Me", and make for a pretty compelling listen overall.  Had my top albums of 2011 list gone to about 30 entries, this one might very well have made the cut. I hope you take the time to give it a spin yourself.

 

LISTEN & DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 

 

 

 

Babylon Warchild - Babylon Warchild

I thought I heard every album I was supposed to hear last year, so where the hell was Babylon Warchild the whole time?  Maybe it's an unfair comparison, but this album brought back visions of early Jedi Mind Tricks - hungry, aggressive, in-your-face and uncompromising.  And considering the absolute piece of garbage JMT's last album proved to be, Babylon Warchild filled that void nicely.  The subject matter rarely ever deviates from the requisite goverment conspiracies and slaying rappers, but the dark and super heavy beats more than make up for it.  Babylon Warchild isn't for everyone as it proves to be more of an acquired taste, but if you dig music in the vein of AOTP, La Coka Nostra, etc. then you need to seek this one out.

LISTEN & DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 

 

 

 

Señor Kaos - The Kaos Effect

Kaos released one of my favorite mixtapes last year with The Most Interesting MC In The World and the hype for his next solo was in full swing.  With all the influx of year-end releases it was sad to see The Kaos Effect sort of get lost in the mix because it's a fine record.  I do have to admit that Kaos isn't as engaging as we heard previously; he gets the job done over what proves to be the true star of the show - Illastrate's nasty production.  Just the intro track alone, "The Understanding", is arguably one of the finest beats from last year.  It also marks Kaos' best effort on the mic by far and it's that pinnacle that the rest of the album fails to regain.  That's not to say that TKE isn't great, but the bar is set so high out of the gate that it proves tough getting back there.  Kaos isn't going anywhere and there's even greater music yet to come.

LISTEN & DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 

 

 

LMNO - Overtime

One thing that can't be denied is James Kelly's output.  Dude dropped not one, not two, not five, but TEN albums in 2010, another with producer Kyo Itachi early last year and he couldn't let 2011 go by without blessing us one more time.  And, once again, he links up with long-time collaborator LD for a special free release.  LMNO's rhymes never come into question; he still maintains his always uplifting style that has made him such a fan favorite over the years.  The bigger highlight, however, is LD's ever-evolving and far-reaching production.  He's BEEN dope, but his beats are more varied with "Surround Trip", "Frequent Styler Miles" and more mature as witnessed on "Growing Up Out Loud".  Too much of a good thing might hurt most other artists, but LMNO proves that consistency always wins.

LISTEN & DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 

 

 

 

Rozewood - Neon Paradise

I stumbled onto this joint after randomly coming across the super dope single "Asian Nights"; it was yet another album that slipped through the 2011 cracks and piqued my interest enough to give it a spin.  The previously mentioned track is SICK and the first 4 or 5 tracks set things up nicely, but the middle of Neon Paradise sags and loses any and all momentum that the first third of the album beautifully set up.  Songs like "You Say That You Love Me" and "What's Your Poison" lack any sort of bite and are rendered sub-par with boring rhymes and even more lackluster hooks (one of my BIGGEST pet peeves).  Don't know if this is worth most listeners' time, but there are a few standouts to be found if you can find your way through the filler.

LISTEN & DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 

 

 

 

Brother Ali - The Bite Marked Heart

Brother Ali is one of the best emcees walking this planet; don't argue with me on that point because it's just straight up FACT.  So the prospect of a new project had my full attention.  And what's this - beats by Jake One to top it off?  There's no denying the brilliance of production and storytelling that "Shine On" is, but surprisingly, the rest of this EP failed to keep my attention.  Ali has always been such a force of nature on the mic who's always preached love and positivity and, yes, I understand that it's keeping in tune with a Valentine's Day release, but he comes off as a little too sappy for my taste.  It's not the sort of artistic diversion that say an 808s album is, but it just wasn't what I expected.  It's good, just not great, and when it comes to Brother Ali, as unfair as it may be, I expect no less.

LISTEN & DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 

 

 

 

Theory Hazit - Three

I admittedly wasn't wise on Theory Hazit until his excellent contribution, Determined To Fly, from LMNO's James Kelly project a couple of years ago.  While a great producer in his own right, this is sort of a role reversal as Dert takes over production duties while Theory holds it down on the mic.  Much like The Kaos Effect, this album flies out the gate with a stunning intro as Dert comes with a very Black Milk-esque banger of a track.  Unfortunately, the very next song is too subdued and weighed down by a corny hook, losing all the energy such a strong intro created.  There are moments to be found, as on the touching "For Lack Of A Better Word", but those are too few and far between and that magic from the first track remains elusive for the most part on Three.

LISTEN & DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 

 

 

 

Saigon - Warning Shots 3: One Foot In The Grave

I should've known from the goofy cover that this was going to be a disappointment.  But beyond that, how do you even follow an album like The Greatest Story Never Told?  The short answer is: you can't.  Granted, that LP was five years old before most of us even heard it, but what happened in the interim?  The drop off from last year's superior release to this has turned out to be one of the year's early disappointments.  The important, thought-provoking rhymes that made me admire Saigon have been thrown out the window to make way for songs that are mediocre at best - and at least two of the tracks are over beats lifted straight from TGSNT.  Really?  Please, even for free the price is too high.  There are a few heaters on Warning Shots and it might've stood well on its own, but in the shadow of such a monumental release I couldn't help but feel cheated.  Like your role on Entourage, Sai, you played yourself.

 

 

 

 

-Gravity

Sunday
Feb052012

REWIND: Timeless Truth - "Brugal & Presidentes"

The duo of O-Prime and Solace, collectively known as Timeless Truth, had been on the outer edges of my radar since the middle of last year.  Granted, it wasn't hard to take notice with leaks of strong singles like "Memorex Massacre" and "True Grit" respectively.  And now with the release of Brugal & Presidentes, the warm-up to the LP Rock'it Science, they have planted their flag firmly and gotten my full attention.

While the previously mentioned singles are here (thankfully), this 8-track EP still had some tricks up its sleeves.  I knew these cats were dope, but their beat selection and presence on the mic is undeniable.  Producer R8der is a revelation here, providing four of the beats on B&P, and giving Prime and Solace the freedom to let their aggressive style breathe on each of his contributions.  "Memorex Massacre", with its subtle yet engaging and dream-like strings, gradually expands courtesy of some truly sick drumwork and the opening track "Circa" is funky beyond belief with a crazy guitar lick complimented nicely with an unexpected horn loop.  Roc Marciano also continues his hot streak both in front of the mic and behind the production boards with "True Grit" and the unbelievably dirty "Leave It Alone".  All in all, this sounds like a throwback record for the present day and the formula works extraordinarily well.

Yes, the beats are great and while it's more than enough to carry this EP through to the end, Prime and Solace are no slouches by any means.  They both have booming voices and tons of presence when they're going in, but never are they grating or annoying.  While I wish there was a little more substance in the rhymes, slaying emcees in this way never gets old and, to that end, Timeless Truth delivers.

While this EP is from perfect, it's near flawless in its execution.  The mission was to whet the listeners' appetite for Rock'it Science and it more than does the job.  One listen to Brugal & Presidentes and it's clear that Prime and Solace have a genuine love and appreciation for the pioneers of Hip Hop.  It's at once an ode to the house that Golden Era Hip Hop built, but updated and completely remodeled with a fresh coat of paint.  My major complaint is that it's only eight songs - I could go for eighty more.  This EP is superb and it's 2012's first great release.

 

"Leave It Alone"

 

"Memorex Massacre"

 

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 

 

-Gravity

Thursday
Jan052012

My Top 25 Hip Hop Albums Of 2011

The "year end" list has become so cliché at this point, I know - but that doesn't mean it's still not fun for me putting one together. Besides, it's always gratifying to see how much better mine is than all the rest (just kidding...sort of). I won't go too into my thought process when putting this together other than it's a combination of lots of factors: production, lyricism, consistency, overall execution and plain ol' personal taste. I try to keep that last factor to a minimum, however, and try to base the merits of each album relative to the others on the list. In other words, my main goal is to create a food chain of sorts - these are the very best of 2011 that I listened to out of 200+ LP's, EP's, mixtapes, etc. and if you want to get a taste of what the year embodied as a whole, I think this is the order you should listen to them in.

Notice two things: First, I said of the albums "I listened to", meaning that I tried to be as thorough as I could possibly be. So if you don't see something you liked on here, either I didn't listen to it or I just didn't like it - sorry. And second, notice that the title says my top 25. You don't have to agree with it in the slightest and that's okay - you'd be wrong, but that's still okay. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want each and every one of you to love this list, print it out and consider it scripture, but if I can take you down memory lane and recall some favorites we share or, more importantly, help you discover something within these 25 picks that you didn't know about and then come to love as much as I did, then my job is done (which I don't technically get paid for, but hey - I do it for Hip Hop). Enjoy.

 

 

#25) Greneberg (Roc Marciano, The Alchemist & Oh No) - Greneberg

Gutter Water and Marcberg were without question two of 2010's finest releases - they were both seeped in dirty, dank and hard hitting beats and were very much a reflection of each other. So it was only natural that these kindred spirits found each other, form like Voltron and become Greneberg. The trio could've easily gone for a new sound and churned out a product that lost the essence of what made their previous albums so dope. But that was far from the case as this EP plays to each of the members' strengths and showed other crews how collabs should be done. Fuck an EP, WE WANT AN ALBUM!

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#24) Epidemic - Illin Spree

Digging through crates for new Hip Hop is an experience that will never be replicated. But the Internet opens up to a whole new world of artists that would fade into obscurity without making so much as a blip otherwise. The cover for Illin Spree is unassuming - it doesn't pop out at you in any particular way so I can't say if I'd seen this album sitting on a shelf in a record store I would've picked it up. But when I stumbled upon it through my many travels across the Net looking for that new heat, I can't deny just how I stunned I was. HexOne and Tek-Nition showed off tremendous skill and a dexterity on the mic that was completely unexpected. From government conspiracies to simply slaying wack emcees over and over again, the subject matter rarely ever deviates, but each track manages to feel fresh and new. That's also due largely in part to 5th Element's slick production from top to bottom. Illin Spree reminds me that the Hip Hop landscape is still vast and pushes the need to look just a little further for that next hidden gem.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#23) Hassaan Mackey & Apollo Brown - Daily Bread

We caught a small taste of the potential magic between these two on The Left's classic Gas Mask with the track "How We Live". Hassaan Mackey's stone cold flow sounded so right on Apollo's equally cold beat and Daily Bread proved to be grander on every scale. Apollo's beats are hard to be outdone, but Hassaan Mackey spewed some of the realest and most honest bars I heard all year long; this is a man pouring his soul out on wax. While Apollo Brown wasn't as prolific in 2011, perhaps that gave him the chance to become extremely focused on this record and the chemistry between he and Mackey was lightning caught in a bottle.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#22) Reks - R.E.K.S. (Rhythmatic Eternal King Supreme)

Reks is the sort of emcee I listen to and wonder how many rappers he makes throw down their pens (or Blackberrys) in frustration and go back to the drawing board. And what's even scarier is that he somehow keeps getting better with age like a fine wine. Take a stroll through his catalog and you'll see this cat has steadily worked towards a level that most rappers would kill to be on. But with R.E.K.S., Corey Christie not only delivers verbal beat downs, he also delivers his most open and reflective album to date. From his father's affliction with AIDS, to his mother's drug addiction, he's not just making music for music's sake, this is therapy for the soul. Reks is one of the most versatile emcees around and as he continues to grow as a man, so does his music.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#21) Apathy - Honkey Kong

Apathy took the best elements of his previous album Wanna Snuggle? and got the formula just right on Honkey Kong. With Ap, you know what you're going to get - knocking beats, punchlines for days and a consistenly great LP. The list of producers alone is enough to make any Hip Hop nerd do backflips with the likes of DJ Premier, Da Beatminerz, DJ Muggs, Evidence and Statik Selektah (amongst others) contributing gasoline to the fire. Apathy has caught shit in the past for the abundant guests on his records, but they work perfectly with each one serving its purpose and never feeling out of place. If anything, Apathy shows he can hang with the best of them by constantly reminding us that he's running this show.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#20) Clan Destined - Self Titled

It was a little site known as Bloggerhouse that schooled me on the duo of DT and AmDex, collectively known as Clan Destined. Self Titled is one of those records that I regrettably didn't get around to until a few months after it dropped and then consistently kicked my own ass for not wising up sooner. The musical heights we're taken to are beyond the clouds and the sheer scope and range that DT and AmDex sought, and ultimately accomplished, is inspiring. Records that break the mold and can make me feel like we're venturing off in some new direction are always welcome and Self Titled did just that.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#19) IMAKEMADBEATS - IMAKEMADBEATS

January releases face the potential downfall of being released too early in the year and falling by the wayside as dozens (and hundreds) of other contenders fight for listeners' ears. After just the first go-round, I knew NeMo had crafted a special album and as other releases came and went, his debut remained near the top of the heap once the dust settled. It should come as no surprise, however - NeMo showed off tremendous range with his sound and a handful (literally, check the cover) of dope emcees. But what made this one great is that IMAKEMADBEATS never once let any one rapper top him. The beats always took center stage and he remained in control like the crazy conductor he is.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#18) Joell Ortiz - Free Agent

I've never been a fan of Slaughterhouse, but the one shining light in the group for me has always been Joell Ortiz. This was his first record outside of the crew and he reminded everyone why each other member has tried to find solo success through multiple releases and he just topped them all with one. With very few guests backing him, Joell stockpiled some tremendous beats and killed countless mics as he ran a verbal gauntlet on Free Agent, all the while slaying everything in his path. Being released from Aftermath proved to be a blessing as Joell sounds more determined than ever to prove his worth, delivering seemingly ever word with a ferocity and purpose that couldn't be stopped. He kicks every line like his life depends on it and we come to learn that it does.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#17) Thurz - L.A. Riot

I never would've expected an album from a former U-N-I member to be so stark and incendiary, but that's exactly what Thurz delivered on his solo debut. Imagine Bomb Squad/Sir Jinx era Ice Cube making a record in 2011; as odd as that sounds, that's what L.A. Riot made me feel. From recounting the beating of Rodney King on one of the album's most powerful tracks, to telling stories of gang life in the inner city, Thurz takes you on a grand tour through a side of Los Angeles that's not all glitz and glamour. Perhaps leaving U-N-I was the main reason Thurz was able to make an album of this caliber and for that he should be commended. This was by far, for me, the year's biggest and most unexpected surprise.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#16) yU - The Earn

yU follows up last year's highly acclaimed debut Before Taxes with yet another gem in The Earn. I loved Before Taxes (it made my top 25 of 2010) and I wondered just how Mr. Willingham would be able to outdo himself, but if there's one thing I've come to learn about yU is that he doesn't disappoint. Whether it be with his Diamond District crew or the 1978ers, yU has proven time and time again that he's more than a one trick pony, capable of coming at you in varying forms. The Earn is much more focused, much more honest and is the soundtrack to the "everyday man" as yU meditates on life, love, money, work - subjects on a more relatable level than a lot of popular rappers offer. yU is a true talent and he remains one of Hip Hop's brightest talents.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#15) Pharoahe Monch - W.A.R. (We Are Renegades)

With his place as one of the best lyricists ever pretty much wrapped up, what does Pharoahe Monch have left to prove? Plenty, apparently. With two beloved solo albums already under his belt, there is the always underlying pressure to make yet another classic. Only time willl tell if W.A.R. falls into that same category, but it's no doubt another jewel added to the Pharoahe's crown. The beats are big, epic and accompany the verbal darts being thrown from seemingly every direction. Politically and socially charged, it's a treat and privilege to hear Pharoahe Monch do his thing. One of the few albums where the beats were great (minus "The Grand Illusion"...ugh), but it was the emcee that was greater.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#14) DTMD - Makin' Dollas

Really, what can I say about Dunc and Toine that I haven't said a million times over by now? I've showered them with praise since last 2010's stunning EP The Basics and with each subsequent leak of new music. Even before I heard Makin' Dollas, I knew it was poised to be something special, but DTMD still managed to blow me away with their first official LP. These dudes are much younger than so-called vets, but make music that's miles ahead of their years. Toine rhymes with the wisdom and knowledge of someone twice his age and Dunc makes beats more mature and expansive than his counterparts. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: DTMD is the future of Hip Hop.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#13) Kaimbr & Kev Brown - Alexander Green

Word of this joint project from Low Budget all stars Kaimbr and Kev Brown bubbled for a minute and once a solid release date was announced, it quickly became one of my most anticipated albums of the year. Pretty much anything Kev Brown touches becomes gold and Alexander Green was no different as he continues to play the MPC like a Stradivarius while tackling Al Green's legendary catalog to cook up some of his finest beats to date. Throw in Kaimbr's confident and versatile flow into the mix and these cats could do no wrong. One of the more consistent records of the year, there was not one dull moment to be had. These are artists at the top of their game showing the world how great Hip Hop is made.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#12) Self Scientific - Trials Of The Blackhearted

You've probably slept on Self Scientific (even after a decade plus) and that's cool, I can forgive that. But if you take the time to give their latest EP a spin and still refuse to acknowledge their undeniable talent, then you're just playin' yourself. Chace Infinite and DJ Khalil have been one of the most consistently great duos for some time now and they still haven't gotten their just dues. After two classic full length albums and another on the way, Self Sci took the time to prepare this EP and their unique brand of militant-minded yet inspiring and socially-conscious Hip Hop and continued to evolve. Truth be told, these are masters of their craft that show no signs of letting up. Khalil's beats continue to be a force of nature and Chace still has, for my money, one of the most distinct voices and some of the deepest bars around. These are two of the best Los Angeles has ever known - wisen up.

DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#11) Rashad & Confidence - The Element Of Surprise

There probably wasn't a more aptly titled album in 2011 than Rashad and Confidence's debut to the world. It's like they slyly named it knowing what they had hidden up their sleeves. I only heard about this album a few short weeks ago, but it was worthy enough to crack my favorites of the year - yeah, it's that good. I have a Spidey Sense for records sometimes and the Lord Finesse & DJ Mike Smooth Funky Technician-inspired cover spoke up and told me I had to hear this before I even heard it. What makes Surprise rank so highly on this list is how it harkens back to the days of a true "duo" album. No guests, no outside production - just a producer and an emcee making heat in the tradition of Hip Hop luminaries like Gang Starr, EPMD and Show & A.G. This album is solid with absolutely no filler and tremendous cohesiveness. They even do the Hip Hop love song how it should be done, how can you be mad at that? Just as the title suggests, this one snuck up on me and quickly became a favorite.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#10) Saigon - The Greatest Story Never Told

I thought TGSNT was going to be something completely different than what it turned out to be. I expected something a little more towards the commerical side (which I guess in some ways it is) and an album that wouldn't be my cup of tea at all. What I did get was a surprisingly moving and inspirational experience. Saigon nimbly moves through Just Blaze's incredible production and delivers some truly great songs reflecting on unexpected fatherhood, betrayal at the hands of old "friends", but the one thing I really respected was that Saigon stayed away from "bling" rap. He showed that he continues to struggle despite his successes. TGSNT also earns the distinction of being the only album on this list that proved to be greater than the sum of its parts. Some songs sound just okay on their own, but within the context of the album they flow seamlessly and that's a big factor in ranking this list. It's also worth noting that while the underlying concept of being transported to different places through the stations on the radio has been done before, the way it all wraps up in the end is excellent and hasn't been really pointed out in other reviews I've seen. Any way you slice it, the wait was worth it as Saigon and Just Blaze delivered big time after so much anticipation.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#9) The Roots - Undun

With the Illadelph crew, it's not even of a question of "Will their album be good?", it's more like "How good will it be?" Admittedly, even I had my own doubts. Following the EXCELLENT How I Got Over (#2 on my list from 2010) would be no easy task as it ended up being one of the best entries in their impeccable catalog. It's usually a two year wait between albums, so I didn't know how such a fast turn-around would impact the group's latest chapter. While I still love HIGO just a bit more, there's no denying the power and beauty that Undun brings with it. Every review I've seen goes on and on about the "concept" this album is built around so I won't touch on it here, but the story and the way it's told plays out like a great book - each subsequent listen reveals so many more little details that were missed the first time around. Undun is painfully short and my main factor for not ranking it higher, but the concept and execution by The Legendary Roots Crew cannot go unnoticed as one of the finest outings of 2011.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#8) Malcolm And Martin - Life Doesn't Frighten Me...

Listening to albums like Life Doesn't Frighten Me... is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it was one of the most entertaining records I heard all year, but a curse because I knew the public at large would be too ignorant to understand it or discover it to begin with. KB iMean and Styliztik Jones, along with direction from DJ Revolution, truly embody the spirits of the real-life Malcolm and Martin by being both militant and defiant, but empowering and never violent all at once. From the out-the-gate force of the intro all the way to the end, Life flows like water in no small part to Revolution's funky and energetic beats. Rev has always been a highly underrated producer, but DAMN he came correct with this one. Most of you probably didn't even know this album existed (unless you follow me on Twitter). That's a damn shame, but it's never too late to catch up. As far as slept-on LP's of the year, this may very well be #1.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#7) Action Bronson - Dr. Lecter

Along with Thurz' entry on this list, I probably would've laughed in your face had you told me at the beginning of the year that Action Bronson's proper debut would be this dope. Like a lot of folks, I held the fact that he sounds so much like Ghostface against him, but take a good listen and you quickly realize that Action Bronson has a style and flavor all his own. Plus throw in the fact that he reportedly only started rapping about 4 years ago and it's jaw-dropping just how charismatic and at home he sounds on the mic. Whether spinning seedy tales about ex-girlfriends, his battles with weight gain (some of Dr. Lecter's biggest laughs) or his many bars involving food, this was some of the most fun I've had simply sitting back and listening to every line a rapper spit just to see what he'd say next. I can't possibly talk about Dr. Lecter and not mention the other revelation here: Tommy Mas' simply AMAZING production. He contributed every beat and it's without question some of the most consistently ill instrumentation you'll find on any record all year. Action Bronson doesn't hit you over the head with preachy lyrics - he let's other rappers do that. What he does give you is one of the most shamelessly fun listens in recent memory.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#6) Rasheed Chappell - Future Before Nostalgia

I've never met Rasheed Chappell (shit, I barely only discovered his music), but if I run into him anytime soon, I'd probably apologize for sleepin' on his work. I heard about this album some time ago, but kept putting it off for whatever reason. As the end of the year approached, I had it on my short list of albums yet to check out. All I kept thinking after each successive track was, "Holy shit.....holy shit......HOLY SHIT!" The beats, courtesy of the always dependable Kenny Dope, were incredible, but the lyricism was the true show-stopper. Whether it was the eye-opening "Children Of The Ghetto" to the awe-inspiring "Theology Of War", I couldn't help but wonder if this was the sort of thing that inspired one Nasir Jones as he grew up and later recounted the things he saw outside his project window. I'm not making any comparisons just yet, but I will say that Rasheed Chappell is well on his way. It's scary to think Future Before Nostalgia almost completely passed me by, so take my advice and seek this one out if you haven't already. If you're already knowing, you no doubt agree with me. If you're still asleep, it's time to wake up.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#5) Blitz The Ambassador - Native Sun

For those of you that even remotely care about my list, I feel this may be my most controversial pick. Not that Native Sun isn't a great record (duh, it's my #5), but because I feel this is the album, more than any other within these 25, that will fly over peoples' heads. I hope that doesn't sound like I don't respect your ear for music, but I recognize that this album may not be for everyone (even though I obviously think it is, given the proper chance). Blitz flipped me on my ear with 2009's superb Stereotype, but Native Sun is on a whole other level. A lot of rappers talk about taking it back to the essence, to their roots, but Blitz takes it all the way back to the Motherland with a fusion of Afro-beat, Latin, Funk and just about any other genre but manages to remain a Hip Hop record at its core.

At this point, we've heard just about everything there is to hear; the game has become more about how you present something rather than what you present. When you can manage to take a whole genre of music and elevate it to a whole new level and give people a glimpse of where it can go, that's where the true magic lies. I sat in awe for 45 minutes as I was taken on one of the most unique musical journeys I've ever been on as a Hip Hop head and I have Blitz The Ambassador to thank for that. Some of you will get it, most of you won't, but if you're open-minded enough and can think outside the box for just one second (or, in this case, 2700 of them) you might just wind up looking at Hip Hop in a whole new light.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#4) Has-Lo - In Case I Don't Make It

ICIDMI was on my radar for a while. I've mentioned it before, but like Gas Mask (my #1 pick in 2010) I heard rumblings of this near-mythical album's greatness and couldn't wait for it. Forward to March of 2011 and me sitting in my car and feeling almost pinned to my seat, unable to move as Has-Lo's opus first played out of my speakers. I had errands to run, things to do, but none were more important to me at that moment than hearing this thing through; I was in such a zone and I didn't want to leave it. Once it was finally over, I was so drained that I didn't quite know what to make of it. We weave and work our way through Has' mind and soul, to the deepest and darkest places we all know exist within our own selves but are afraid to visit. And the way this ride ends? I would be doing a disservice by spoiling it for you, but it's pure genius and reflects the uncertainty that life brings with it.

In this day and age of non-stop features and guest spots on supposed "solo" albums, this is a true one-man show as Has takes the reigns all by himself from beginning to end and that's the only way an album this deep could be presented. This is one man's soul on display and it's his own story to tell, nobody elses. ICIDMI is something I have to be in a certain mood to listen to and that's not a knock againt it in the slightest because it remains the LP that made the biggest emotional impact on me, more than any other on this list. It took me to a place I didn't think I'd end up, but I'm glad I went to nonetheless.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#3) Random Axe - Random Axe

There might have been albums that did more musically, that are way more lyrical, that are a lot more things in different ways than my #3 pick...but for in-your-face, unabashed Hip Hop, very few got it as right as the trio of Black Milk, Sean Price and Guilty Simpson. Maybe as an indirect response to the baby thigh soft music that has become the norm on the airwaves, Hex Murda took it upon himself to help create a group with a "no nonsense, take no prisoner" mentality and to that end, he succeeded. Sean P spits some of his grimiest bars ever and Guilty Simpson delivers the punishment as well. But the glue here is the waterproof producer known as Black Milk who continues to bring the pain behind the boards with his bonecrushing instrumentals. Don't lie, you know that slap on "Everybody Nobody Somebody" hits sharp enough to make you flinch. When I anticipate any album, I invariably imagine what I think it'll sound like - sometimes it lives up to that, other times it doesn't. Random Axe sounds EXACTLY like what I envisioned and what I wanted it to be. Front to back, this one knocks harder than most and remains one of 2011's pure Hip Hop experiences.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 


#2) Elzhi & Will Sessions - Elmatic

If anyone is worthy enough of taking on the monumental task of recreating Illmatic, it would be Elzhi. He possesses a true gift with words and he utilizes every bit of that gift to do justice to one of the best albums not just Hip Hop, but the WORLD, has ever known. After numerous delays and other Illmatic tribute projects in the interim, I had to wonder if yet another would even be relevant anymore. Not only did El and Will Sessions make it relevant, they made it one of the most astounding records of the last few years. Part of its genius lies in not taking the easy route and letting Elzhi rap over the classic instrumentals like others had done before, but by Will Sessions painstakingly not just recreating, but reinvisioning, those 9 beats (minus "One Time 4 Your Mind") that are part of Hip Hop legend.

Once the sound was locked in, Elzhi took the foundation Nas laid down, switched out New York with Detroit as his backdrop and proceeded to put yet another lesson down in emceeing. He makes it seem so effortless and second nature that it's almost disrespectful to put any other rapper on his level. Elzhi is just so above and beyond everyone else that it's not even funny. From the chills "Detroit State Of Mind" induced, the way "The World Is Yours" transitioned to "Represent" with Will Sessions' absolutely mind-blowing recreation of "Thief Of Baghdad" and Stokley Williams' flawless cover of The Gap Band's "Yearning For Your Love" in the closing moments of "Life's A Bitch", it's unbelievable all of the elements that had to come together to make Elmatic what it is. It's undoubtedly one of the most fitting tributes one artist has ever paid another, but it also stands as a masterpiece itself.

DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 

 

 

 


#1) Evidence - Cats & Dogs

I was lucky enough to attend Evidence's sold out album release party at The Viper Room back in October. After the show, I ran into him outside, said what up and told him, "Congratulations on dropping the album of the year." Humble as he always is, Ev just laughed and said, "You crazy, man." But when it comes to what I think is a particular year's best album, I don't play around and I don't mince words. Granted, the year was already winding down and there were still a few big name releases yet to be heard, but I knew then - and moreso now that the smoke has cleared - it's Ev's follow-up to The Weatherman LP that reigns (or rains?) supreme.

Countless artists have emerged from the Los Angeles underground scene since the late 90's, but very few have remained or stayed relevant all these years later and even fewer have seen their stock continue to rise. The reason Evidence has succeeded, among others, is that he gives his loyal fan base exactly what they want. Knockin' beats, honest rhymes and a consistency that few other rappers deliver. Think about it: have you ever heard Ev spit on a wack beat? You'd be hard pressed to find one. He's found his voice with each subsequent release and he's so locked into what makes his music great that it's a sight to behold.

From The Weatherman LP to The Layover EP, he's steadily worked his way to Cats & Dogs where he gets the formula for a classic just right. The production is big (and I mean BIG) and fits his heavy rain motif to a tee. The beats are thick, engrossing and show the rest of the world that Los Angeles is more than just sunshine and palm trees. But it really goes beyond that - it's a running theme throughout Cats & Dogs that this is the reflection of a man who feels his back getting closer and closer to the wall. This is Evidence at his most open and vulnerable and the new perspective we get on him as a person is where the album shines. From meditating on who and who not to trust on "Strangers" to personal demons on "I Don't Need Love", to financial problems on "Well Runs Dry" and the frantic percussion work that amplifies the desperation on "Falling Down", you can't help but root for Evidence to make it to the finish line. By the time we get to the DJ Premier-assisted "The Epilogue", that's exactly what we hear - someone who's come to terms with who (and where) he is and it makes the rollercoaster ride we just took that much more satisfying.

Great albums have a way of finding the listeners that need them. You ever notice how the best albums remain with you years later because it came into your life at the right time? Cats & Dogs definitely fit that bill for me and I wanted nothing else in my rotation for the next few weeks after its release; I can't say that for any other album on this list. Cats & Dogs has incredible production value, a well-executed theme and, pretty much, it just feels like the best album of 2011. Keep your umbrellas up.

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 

 

-Gravity

Saturday
Dec312011

Best Of 2011 - June

Skyzoo - The Great Debater

 The opposite of Chemo's album in my May recap, Skyzoo's latest comes recommended solely based on lyrics.  Not that the beats aren't good, they just didn't quite hold up for me on repeated listens.  All that aside, Sky went the fuck OFF on the lyrics and the complex rhyme patterns and metaphors this dude kicks seemingly at will is a feat that has to be heard to be believed.

 

 

"Complicated Rhythm" (Produced by Best Kept Secret)

 

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 

 

Trace Blam & Soul Chef - Bottles

New music comes from all angles on the Internet.  I was schooled on SoulChef some time last year, so when I came across this hidden jewel it was hard not to give it a shot.  The intro jumps out the gate and SoulChef serves up some great cuts for Trace Blam to bear his soul.  Not a game-changer by any means, but solid nonetheless.

 

 

 

"Bottles (Intro)" (Produced by SoulChef)

 

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 

 

Random Axe - Random Axe

Black Milk, Sean Price and Guilty Simpson.  Did you hear me?  I said  BLACK MILK, SEAN PRICE AND GUILTY SIMPSON.  If you don't recognize those names then this album wasn't made for you.  The trio come through swinging their axes (pun intended) and taking out everyone in their path.  This was a no frills, no gimmicks, boom-bap lover's dream.

 

 

"Everybody Nobody Somebody" (Produced by Black Milk)

 

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 

 

The Black Opera - Overture

I wish I could tell you who exactly is in The Black Opera.  Not that I know and don't want to ruin the illusion; even if I did know, I still wouldn't tell you.  Not that it matters because Overture is about the message and not the messenger.  These tracks are meant to uplift, instill awareness and put the power back into a needy public's hands.  This is the soundtrack to a revolution.

 

"Sleep Tight"

 

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 

 

Count Bass D & Insight - The Risk Takers

Heads were feenin' for a new Madvillain album in 2011.  Obviously that didn't come to be, but The Risk Takers is about as close as you could get to something in that same vein.  The beats are really abstract, dusty and full of obscure and odd samples.  In other words, it's perfect.  Count Bass D is the oddball, Insight plays the straight man and the two balance each other better than a scale.

 

 

"Dinner Is Served" (Produced by Insight)

 

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 

 

DJ JS-1 - Ground Original 3: No One Cares

The latest (and perhaps last...?) installment of JS-1's series is another solid addition to the catalog.  GO:2 was one of my favorite albums of 2009 so my hopes were expectedly high.  Volume 3 felt a little too long and repetitive as far as subject matter, but the fact that JS-1 holds down all the production duties is noteworthy and he never loses sight of the direction he wants to take this series.

 

 

"Compositionz" (Produced by DJ JS-1; featuring Eternia & Ras Kass)

 

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD --> HERE

 

 

-Gravity