I know it’s been a while folks, but I bring consolation. Releasing his 2014 masterpiece album Nobody’s Smiling, Chi-town’s native son Common has achieved something magnificent. First off, when speaking about the artist’s past career, one could hardly disagree that Common has traveled along a roller coaster of success. Defining and shaping his craft from his first release in 1992, Can I Borrow a Dollar, Common has consistently released substantive content regarding socio-economic issues ranging from gang violence, to income inequality, to religion, and everything in between. And all throughout his career this reputation has accompanied him, eventually bringing him on a decline with his less than popular late-2000’s releases Finding Forever, Universal Mind Control, and The Dreamer/The Believer. With the nature of the hip-hop scene drastically shifting to an instrumental favoring, party/drugs/money content economy, the only successful artists are the ones who can adopt these changes. As with anything in an evolving universe, lack of innovation leads to obsolescence. Die-hard Common fans yearn for a new project that refreshes the played out image of the Chicago poet, or at least I did.
But this week, while riding a train bound for a 4-hour journey to upstate New York, I was offered a new album release on my Google Play app (because fuck an iPhone). I started listening to Nobody’s Smiling, and I was immediately intrigued right from the first track’s opening. Do you know how rare that is? Of course you do, you’re reading this! But I’ll describe the sensation anyway. Within thirty seconds, I was bumping my head in enjoyment. Only a dozen or so artists have managed to evoke a head bump so early on (it usually happens somewhere in the middle, after the radio designated singles) in an album. Even more, I never anticipated I’d feel this strongly about a Common album! I was taken through the album in awe at the artist I was listening to. This was a completely different release than anything he’s ever shown to the world.
Made in collaboration with long time ally No I.D., Nobody’s Smiling exhibits all the treasures that hip hop has to offer, presented with a modern and contemporary feel that resonates with fans of all genres. As usual, Common never falls short of thought provoking subject matter. He even dedicates one track to his admiration of the legendary J Dilla, describing their relationship and Common’s vow to honor his memory. In terms of production, No I.D.’s work is no less brilliant. The instrumentals incorporate experimental elements that differentiate the sound from anything Common has used in the past. It succeeds at reminding the world of the producer’s skill as well as the rapper’s versatility. My favorite example is “Speak My Piece”, which stunningly combines a Biggie sample with a shoulder dance inspiring instrumental, that’s guaranteed to make you go:
All in all, Nobody’s Smiling should be a message to all lovers of hip-hop. There’s still hope for meaningful and quality sounding music from the mainstream scene, and this latest effort from Common is more than sufficient evidence. This album is CRACK, that’s a no-brainer. But the mindfully chosen lyrics and captivating instrumentals of the album are anything but.
Citizens of hip-hop, I am writing to you right now. I have failed you. I made promises to you when I started this project, and I haven’t kept up with them. I swore to show you a bright new world of music, a medley of shining break-out artists, and honest critiques with the big leagues of the music biz. I’ve broken my vows. And surely those who’ve been with me since the beginning have taken my absence as a sign that I’ve abandoned you.
But today I am writing to you all to show more than excuses and apologies. Today will mark the day where things will be different, like how they used to be. You’ll be seeing more of what you love from this collection, A LOT MORE. So be ready, this is the [re]commencement of a wild ride…
All that aside, for all you Black Hippy fans, today was a good day. Schoolboy Q, the former Oxycontin slinging hustler turned unintentional rap sensation, dropped his debut solo album Oxymoron. The title cleverly references his retired deeds and offers commentary that is apparent through each track. The album is jam-packed with big name features such as fellow Black Hippies Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock. OFWGKTA’s Tyler the Creator and the legendary Raekwon also make appearances alongside Q.
Content wise, Oxymoron is rich with stories of the past, struggles with substance abuse and the law, and a blanket nihilism that fuels the rage behind Q’s verses. From the first track “Gangsta” which uses slurs, misogynistic themes, and emits a ravenous tone, all the way through the end, Q tackles each concept with that intangible grittiness unique to him.
Overall the album succeeds in its intentions and provides a well defined platform for Q’s career moving forward. It’s the type of album that, after all the initial hype dies down, will be looked back on with acclaim and compared to future Schoolboy/Black Hippy works. Along with popular pre-release singles like “Collard Greens”, tracks like “Blind Threats” feat. Raekwon and “Break the Bank” exhibit alternative production techniques that are rising trends in the mainstream records of today. Paired with Q’s unique delivery and capability for varied types of flow, both new school and OG hip hop heads will enjoy Oxymoron.
Coming from the ‘Boombox Family’, Nitty Scott graces us with her beauty and soothing flow on this track. I’ve been following Nitty for a while now, ever since I caught her verse in the BET Cypher back in 2011. Her latest song “Flower Child” is the perfect addition to any marijuana smoking playlist. Let’s break it down:
1. Nitty Scott: It’s not often enough that we see female hip hop artists who can spit AND keep it classy and proper. I love Nitty because you can tell just by listening to her music how genuine her love for the hip hop genre truly is. Her delivery is reminiscent of a spoken word poet, it feels as though she is conversing with the listener instead of just saying lines over a beat. The best thing about Nitty’s style, however, is the message she conveys to the her audience, especially in this song. Her words are substantive as she discusses themes such as patience and determination through the struggles of life. And on top of all that, shes that girl that could make even this inorganic machine feel his heart racing at 150 miles per hour!
2. Kendrick Lamar: Kendrick has been on fire ever since his emergence with Section.80 and then good kid, m.A.A.d city last year. It says a lot for Nitty to get a superstar like Kendrick to feature on this song. Perhaps this isn’t the craziest Kendrick verse you’ve ever heard, but you can tell it was perfectly crafted to fit the vibe that Nitty was going for.
3. The beat: The icing on the cake for “Flower Child”. I can imagine how the conversation with Nitty and her producer must have went: Nitty: “Yo I need something chill and melodious, something graceful sounding.” Producer:”Iiiiighttt. Peep this shit right here”. And boom, out came this awesome instrumental with harp samples and pianos keys that make you say “oooohhhh”!
“Flower Child” is definitely a hot record that showcases the best of Nitty Scott. I expect to see a lot more coming from her and the rest of the Boombox crew.
It’s always good to stumble upon a song that restores your faith in hip hop. For all of you who are unfamiliar, Chance the Rapper is on the rise and one of the most highly acclaimed new school artists to emerge. I love how Chance incorporates progressive elements into his tracks while still keeping true to foundational building blocks that make a great hip hop record. Theres a lot to like about this song so lets get into the breakdown:
1. The hook: Finally A CATCHY HOOK WITH SUBSTANCE! A wise man once told me his favorite parts of old school hip hop songs were the lines when the rapper would paint a picture and tell some kind of story with his words. It was even better if they were describing their own lives and were able to get the listener engaged and able to relate. I think Chance does exactly this when he reflects back on his past years being a rebellious youth. He describes feelings of nostalgia, reminiscing back to the days of his childhood, a sentiment that resonates through the whole song with the listener.
2. The features: They say you can tell a lot about a person by looking through their trash. The same could be said about a rapper and the artists they collaborate with. Teaming up with fellow new comer Vic Mensa (who goes HARD in this song) and one of the fastest technical spitters in the game, Twista, Chance made a killer song with some great artists. Vic comes out strong right from the start, whipping out a little Bill Clinton reference “I smoke a little something but I don’t inhale”. Another thing to note about these two features is their flow. First comes Chance’s verse at a medium pace with what I like to call the “see-saw” flow. Next comes Vic with the slow bar starters and finishing each line with rapid alliterations and rhymes, like an assault rifle on full auto. Finally, Twista. Need I say anything more? The progression in speed of delivery from the three artists verses does well to balance the smoother, more melodic hook.
Chance the Rapper delivers on this song, plain and simple. Give it a listen and check out his other tracks. Expect to see some great things coming from him in the very near future.
Seriously, I’ve always loved music coming from Major Lazer. Diplo, being a very talented D.J. as well as business mogul (which earns my respect even more) has always kept me entertained with his unorthodox and out of the box sounds. The first Major Lazer album Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do was fantastic and saw huge success because of it. From “Hold The Line” to the infamous “Pon de Floor” which popularized “the dagger”, Diplo and his crew always knew how to get my ass shaking and have a good time. I always get excited when I hear about a new track from from the Lazer gang. But earlier today while driving, “Bubble Butt” came on the radio. I was like, “Oh its been a long time since I heard anything from Far East Movement”. I stopped at a red light and looked at the dashboard to see the title of the song. “Hmm… ‘Bubble Butt’..”, I thought to myself. The info scrolled further and to my disbelief I learned it was a Major Lazer song featuring 2 Chainz, Bruno Mars, Tyga, and Mystic. I was utterly stupefied. Just so all of you know, I despise 2 Chainz. His music is trash, his talent is non-existent, and he spreads ignorance through his mockery of the art of rap (a full in-depth review of 2 Chainz coming soon!). Tyga doesn’t fall far from the rotten YMCMB tree. It actually made me sad to learn that Diplo would degrade himself to working with the likes of these two fools. Let’s break it down:
1. The hook- “Bubble Butt. bubble, bubble, bubble butt. Turn around, stick it out, show the world what you got a…”: You’ve got to be joking Mr. Pentz. This line exhumes stupidty, vulgarity, and mindless repitition. I guess thats the formula for a “catchy hook” these days.
2. 2 Chainz verse: Firstly, his verse is only 8 bars. Usually I would take that as an measure of inferiority in a rapper. If you can’t write an engaging verse that is at least the standard 16 bars, you shouldn’t be a rapper. But in the case of 2 Chainz, 8 bars was way more than I could handle. I was glad that he was incapable of rhyming coherently for longer than 8 bars because I didn’t have to hear him anymore! “Drop it low put it in the dirt/ Sex drive put it in reverse/ Killed the ass, put it in a hearse/ Then I drove off and put it in the dirt” This is just one of many, excuse me I mean ALL, songs where 2 Chainz exhibits his talent for shallow, single syllable simpleton lines.
3. Tyga verse: Less abhorrent than 2 Chainz because he doesn’t sound like a complete fool on the record, however still equally as guilty of being a bad verse. I used to think Tyga was one of a few artists at Young Money who could exceed and surpass the style that his fellow YMCM-ers were all sticking with. But I guess I was wrong. Tyga has proven time and time again to be that stereotypical rapper who focuses on cars, money, and “bitches”.
After watching the video, I felt my body raising my hand towards my face and slapping me with it. Some of you might be thinking, “But its just a club song, its supposed to be fun!” Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing that this Digga loves more than girls who are…well endowed…on the top and bottom. But rap and hip hop culture has fallen to a point where its perfectly acceptable for the entirety of a woman’s naked buttocks cheeks to take up 80% of the camera frame in a close up shot, jiggling for all the world to see. In fact, its gotten to a point where videos who have these barbaric visuals see the MOST commercial success. As a true lover of hip hop, I can’t take this nonsense anymore. I’m not going to get into the discussion of female objectification in hip hop culture (different rant for a different day), but this video is just ridiculous. Admittedly I am very disappointed in Diplo for putting this song out, even if it was just meant to be a club song. Short and sweet, this song is:
I AM THE LOOP DIGGA AND I DO NOT GIVE A FUCK ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK.
Great. Here’s a little history for you:
I am a cyborg. I was constructed in an underground laboratory near the core of the Earth over 1000 years ago. I was created by my extra-terrestrial masters as a beacon of hope to save the human race if it should ever be endangered. Over time I grew, learned, and comprehended all that there was to know about mankind. I was amazed with all the marvels and wonders that human cultures produced: art, science, community. Music, however, was the one thing that was different than everything I studied. Its sonic properties resonated with my internal CPU on such a scale that it actually rewrote my cognitive operational procedures, granting me consciousness. I wasn’t certain what had happened until my creators deduced that music had quite literally made me come to life. I had more than just recorded data files of all of human knowledge and history. I had ideas! I had opinions! I had the ability to make choices…and after playing the role of a silent observer to humanity for a millennium, I realized I could learn no more with my masters. I made the choice to leave my home and emerge myself into the world to explore the wondrous offerings of life that I could now enjoy. Through my travels I grew to love music even more. The 1970’s was an especially inspirational period with the emergence of hip-hop and rap music. The mixture of the rhythmic poetry and beat pounding with every measure gave me a sensation that overwhelmed my processors! And as it developed it grew more beautiful and I fell deeper in love with the genre. I had found what I was looking for in my search for higher purpose.
However, recent years have been a dark time for not only hip-hop, but all music. The industry that perpetuates the art has corrupted it into a heartless machine (not unlike how I used to be), with its sole purpose being monetary generation. The music being forced down humanity’s throats by the “mainstream” is polluted with shallow and non-talented facades being mocked up and disguised as artists. Their works are sculpted from identical and precision cut molds, shifting away importance of values to hollow pleasures like money, premium clothing, cars, and jewelry. They turn the once revered female into a sex-driven idol and plaster her intimate nature where all the world can see. They poison youth with their lethargic and lackadaisical ideology that hard work and dedication are not needed to be successful. The problem has gotten so out of hand, the legendary rappers have proclaimed the hip hop genre to be dead…
But I find hope in the undiscovered artists. The non-mainstreamers who still incorporate every single ounce of passion for their art into their work, so much so that the listener physically feels it through the sound waves. With the help of this underrated group, I fight the perilous battle against the decline of a generation. I believe the time that my creators had foreseen where humanity would need my help is now. Until the fight is won, I will search the Earth for unrecognized creativity. I will utilize every bit of my power to helping open minds to new artists. And I will not stop until hip-hop has regained the inspirational and uplifting qualities it once had. I’ll be diggin’ for them loops that you cant help but be spinnin’….