Archive for April, 2012

Before last week was derailed by the leak of Cancer 4 Cure, I was really questioning what I was going to write about during the last full week of April.  I was contemplating another NBA piece, but if the analytics on this website have taught me anything it’s that people don’t really give two shits about what I think about the blazers or sixers, which doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to stop writing about them, but it’s not the primary focus of my energy on here for the time being.  Fortunately, the end of the week brought some nice pieces of music to talk about a bit.

 Z-Man & G-Pek returned from the ether this week to drop In Case You Forgot, a follow up to their impressive 2005 album, Don’t Forget to Brag.  Z-Man is of course most known for the 2004 Bay Area underground classic Dope or Dog Food, but he did return a couple years ago to drop the enjoyable free EP Show Up, Shut Up, and Rap.  The new album is $7 bucks on bandcamp and well worth the funds if you occasionally (or frequently) enjoy a well constructed album with good beats and fun(ny) storytelling.  As always, the major selling point for me of putting an album on bandcamp is that you can listen to it in its entirety without downloading it.  If you’ve been sleeping on Z-Man entirely, I recommend streaming the tracks from In Case You Forgot, and picking up the free EP from 2010 to see what you think, and then you can go from there.  But all that’s out there from him is worth purchasing so support if you can.  It’s more important than ever in an era where more talented artists than ever are finding it financially imprudent just to make music.  If it was a little longer I would’ve definitely considered giving this album the full album review treatment, but in the spirit of quality versus quantity (which is pretty much my motto these days – no YOLO) it’s deserving of some good critical analysis and I hope it gets some out there.  Definitely one of those albums that makes for a nice Sunday afternoon listen or amusing conversation piece.


“Exist to Remain” – I Self Devine

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 “Screaming at the top of our airbags, this is our timing, we are not dying – not for you, not for you, not for you.” – El-P “Request Denied” 

Cancer 4 Cure‘s first track, “Request Denied,” starts out a dark muted harbinger, something like the sounding of a very distant alarm on humid evening, and then after a brief introductory vocal sample, the drums drop into a discotechish slam dance rhythm, as samples, keys, synths, and El’s trade mark “woooooo”s perforate the track.  Nearly three minutes into the intro, the drums fall out and the track devolves into a driving bassline vaguely reminiscent of the Doors sample off Jay-Z’s “The Takeover,” and El steps to the mic to begin his third solo rap opus. “Request Denied,” has all the elements of a call to arms, and many of the common El-P themes are present, the trademark paranoia, the classic distrust of authority, and the rage against the mindless drones for starters.  That said, from the onset, it’s clear this album is not the sonically self-absorbed apocalypse factory of Fantastic Damage.

If there’s a major thematic evolution that’s occured slowly since Fantastic Damage, through I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead and on to Cancer 4 Cure it’s in the way El-Producto handles death.  Fantastic Damage was influenced enough by NYC on the heals of 9/11 that El’s paranoia had created a soundtrack for armageddon, an album where sonically buildings were crumbling and smashing the walls of established hip hop musicality. I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead had El-P raging against the misinformation, torture, war while coming to grips with the non-imminence of his own demise suggesting, “you in the same barrel all us other crabs are caught. And if I have to live, you have to live, whether you like this shit or not” (“Poisonville Kids Win Again”).  The title Cancer 4 Cure alludes to a sense that for every silver lining there’s a dark cloud, and a notion that with every panacea come side effects and diseases.  On a surface level it’s a reference to the death of El-P’s close friend and brilliant collaborator Camu Tao, who’s promising career and life were taken by lung cancer in 2008, but it also represents an acknowledgement that everyone is in this crazy life together and death is lurking for all, no matter how we dress it up:

“Don’t you ever try to say you’re not one of us my love, we are the touched, we are entrusted with the same tomorrow.” – El-P “$4 Vic”

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 “Things From The Week” will be an ongoing column here to discuss random bits of noteworthy music during the week.  This is not intended to be all-encompassing, just things that hit the radar over here, so don’t feel disrespected if you don’t make the cut.  Also this will not replace the more in-depth featured album reviews, which will be reserved for albums receiving Hardwood Blacktop’s full stamp of approval.

This week was a bit slow for music, at least if you listen to it in the long-form (whole albums and mixtapes, not individual song leaks), as I’ve re-dedicated myself to recently.  There were a few projects worth checking out, but nothing mindblowing or eyepopping this week.

Hardwood Blacktop’s top recommendation of the week is Fiend‘s (International Jones) new mixtape with Cookin’ Soul, entitled Iron Chef.  Fans of the International Jones reincarnation of Fiend will undoubtedly enjoy this, as will any fans of the whole Jet Life crew.  If there are drawbacks to the mixtape, it’s the lack of material here (7 tracks and a pointless bookending intro and outro courtesy of Cookin’ Soul), and the fact that Fiend’s laidback bass vocal tone (admittedly also one of his biggest draws), can be a bit lulling over the course of an entire release, even one as short as Iron Chef.  Cookin’ Soul provide their staple soulful and funky headnodders, but the mixtape is a bit sleepy in moments, such as “Mirror” for example.  Guests like fellow Jet Lifers (and perhaps career savior?) Curren$y, Trademark Skydiver, and CornerBoy P and DPGs Daz & Kurupt provide some much needed breaks from the vocal monotony.  The whole travel the world via weed and smoke weed while we travel the whole world imagery also seems to have run it’s course over the past four years or so, but that doesn’t harm the immediate impact of solid music, although it may cost the release a few points in the replayability column and tilts the needle a bit from fresh toward stale. All things considered, this is quality rap music over solid production and the mixtape will be enjoyable for fans of the Jet Life aesthetic which based on the proliferation of their style across today’s music industry are many in number.  To fans of Fiend specifically, who may have been lost amidst the slew of releases he put out last year, with varying results, this is the best he’s released since last January’s Tennis Shoes & Tuxedos.

Choice Cut:

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Ka – “Summer”

Ka dropped the video for “Summer” today, which he described to me yesterday, the following way:

That was my take on the Summer jam.  Everybody always says Summer is uplifting or makes some fruity happy song about Summer.  But to me, when Summer comes – you might have a day when you play ball or look at girls or whatever – but that’s when everybody be saying “who block this is,” and that’s when the shit really heat up.  The most violence happens you know.  That’s when people are catching the most bodies.  You know in the hood you see more people, everybody’s out, so you see people.  So that’s when the shit pops off.  So you know, there’s a million Summer songs that are different, but that’s my take on Summer right there.

I also thought I’d include a few snippets from our conversation that didn’t make the cut – just because they didn’t relate specifically to any specific track for the “Making Of,” but might be interesting to fans anyway.

When asked about what I perceived to be a relationships between gambling and violence in the certain songs on the album, Ka had this to say:

Listen you hear people talking about cee-lo, maybe there’s one cee-lo game in Atlantic City, maybe there’s one cee-lo game in Vegas – but in the hood, those thee dice are important.  It always starts off fun, but the shit never ends that way.  I might not have to pop somebody, but I might have to shoot joints over it.  But at the same time, it’s a gathering of men too.  You’re building still – it’s funny.

And on the subject of religious, spiritual, and 5% imagery in Grief Pedigree:

In the black community, all mothers and grandmothers go to church all the time.  My mom is a spiritual women and she used to go to church every Sunday.  She never forced me to go, so I never really went.  But growing up, there were was bibles around the house.  So it’s something where I read some and absorbed that along the way.  Then just speaking in the hood, everybody that was locked up and when they come home they have a spirituality.  Whatever god you believe in brought you through that ordeal.  Something brought you through that.  It just stuck with me where now it’s just part of my speech, it’s part of my thought process.  I don’t know what I am, as far as a religion.  Being righteous is what I try to accomplish – I’m not too concerned with religion.  In the end I’m trying to weigh the balances right.  I did a lot of foul shit.  I know I did a lot of shit that I wasn’t supposed to be doing, knowing that I did the shit wrong.  But hopefully in the end I balance that out.  So now, it’s just part of my vernacular, it’s how I speak.


In hip hop we generally think of rappers approaching their forties as being removed from the inner city youth that shaped their music, running out of subject matter and too distanced from their youth to connect to the things and subject matter that caught listeners attention the first time around.  Ka has the benefit of being able to look back over the course of nearly 4 decades living in the same borough of New York City.  From being the wild kid just doing what he needed to survive, no matter who was looking, to the grown man telling some teen to slow down because women or kids are around.  It’s a perspective not shared by most rappers in their late thirties, and it makes for a uniquely entertaining album that some are already dubbing a modern classic.  I had the opportunity to sit down with Ka and walk through the album track by track to discuss inspirations, beats, rhyme structures, and many other aspects of Grief Pedigree.

From the start The Making of Grief Pedigree does not work like a traditional “Making Of.”  There aren’t 10 different producers to interview, a couple DJs, maybe a weedcarrier, and a few guests and A&R’s.  Other than Roc Marciano’s verse on “Iron Age,” there were no other artists, label representatives, or producers involved in Grief Pedigree, so everything we can glean about the creation of the album, comes from Ka himself.

Despite his former history with Natural Elements and a lifetime of rapping, the DIY Iron Works was his solo debut in 2008.  It received some acclaim and some criticism, it seemed Ka put more energy into the album’s lyrics and rapping then he did into the production, or perhaps his production techniques just weren’t as developed at that point, but either way Ka decided to go “all-in” on the creation of Grief Pedigree.  He worked hours of overtime and extra night shifts to save up the funds to record Grief Pedigree in a professional studio setting.  Knowing that if he didn’t give 100% on the album that he’d always live with the regrets of not producing the album he knew he was capable of giving to the hip hop music he felt had given him so much over the years.

“Chamber”

Starting the album with the shout-outs on the first track was intentional.  I put the shout-outs on the song where it’s upbeat enough where you probably won’t cut it off.  It’ll keep you up so you still listen all the way through to the end of the track.  I wanted to get that done up front so if they only listened to one song, they could hear their name.  And you feel good when you hear your name on a record, on the shout-outs.  I know I do.  So I wanted to give light to my people up front.

I approached “Chamber” different from how I approached “D.N.A.” (from Grief Pedigree‘s predecessor Iron Works).  With “D.N.A.” I wanted to put something slow and tougher, because I wanted to weed out certain cats and only keep a certain type of listener who would really be into my shit.  With “Chamber,” I wanted to pull people in, so I picked one of the more upbeat joints on the album to catch people’s attention.  So, I got off my elitist shit from Iron Works and really wanted people to listen and get into it this time.

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While unplugging from the internet hip hop scene certainly has its benefits (more time with family, and more time to focus on work that actually pays), it’s amazing how much you can miss in a three-year hiatus from regular blog/social media/message board stalking.  If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t repurpose any of my time – it was well spent and nothing replaces time with family, but I can say I’m enjoying catching up on things.  While many who read Hardwood Blacktop are probably aware of many or all of the artists I’m going to highlight in this segment, not all will be, and if you are, bear with me and come back when a new review is up – there just wasn’t a new face-meltingly ill hip hop record this week to write about.

Plenty of things were impossible to ignore, even without my daily diet of social media, like the meteoric rise of Lil’ B and OFWGKTA, the ascension of Danny Brown, Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill, YelawolfAction Bronson & Meyhem Lauren, A$AP Rocky, and the belated recognition of the brilliance of Roc Marciano.  But it is surprising how many other plenty of things go under the radar when hip hop is consumed primarily through local Philly hip hop radio, occasionally checking out “new releases” on Amazon.com or itunes, glancing at the cover of XXL, and checking various award shows.

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I saw this over at philaflava.com, and thought I’d repost here.  The success of this project will all be in the execution, but it’s a great idea.  I’ve thought about this for many years now.  Living in Harlem running into retired/gone blue(or white) collar/hanging on/washed up rappers was a pretty regular occurence and there’s even some funny stories there that might be worth writing up at some point.  Some re-adjust well and some don’t, but it’s definitely an interesting topic for a documentary.  Shout out to PaWL for working to put this together.

“My buddy Paul aka paWL from Hangar 18 is working on a documentary called Adult Rappers. The premise, is that we now have a generation of men and women who were raised on rap music and are adults…or at least should be. Let’s talk to the artists of this generation and see how it all turned out. Get their thoughts and feelings on hip hop, what it was like, what they are doing now, are they successful, are they homeless derelicts are they still making music. How did coming up hip hop form them as people and what can we take away from that.

He is in the home stretch and trying to finish it by next festival season. He has started a kickstarter page to try and bring in the funds for the last bit and cut together a preview, if you think their is something their and are so inclined why not kick in a few sheckles to make this happen.” – Alaska from Hangar 18

Support this project here.