While I Was Sleeping (A Synopsis of Things I Missed)

Posted: April 17, 2012 in Hip Hop
Tags: , , , , , ,

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.

I won’t rehash anything covered in the Best of 2012 Album Review Series (1st Quarter here, 2nd Quarter here) and this is by no means an exhaustive “best of” list, or even an exhaustive list of good stuff that dropped while I was offline (it would probably take years to listen to and analyze all of that), it’s meant to be a look at some interesting stuff I missed and maybe some you might have missed even if you weren’t paying attention to everything out there.  In no particular order:

Shabazz Palaces – Black Up – While the stylistic exploration of formerly respected artists, is not always welcome or particularly exceptional, it has also produced some of the best projects of the last 10-15 years, especially for (and from) the over 30 hip hop contingent (MF DOOM, Ka, Roc Marciano, Kool Keith, NYOIL), despite hip hop’s youth issues, the 30+ crowd becomes a more and more relevant sector with each passing year, especially given that most 30 year olds at least grew up in an era when they still had to pay for music, and generally don’t mind supporting DIY artists who make the type of art they value.  Butterfly from Digable Planets has made other musical forays post-Digable, interesting in their own way, but he’s clearly struck a note with his work with instrumentalist Tendai Maraire.  Both of their 2009 EPs, Eagles Soar, Oil Flows and The Seven Now are unique in the best way possible, and Black Up is easily one of the best rap releases from 2011.  One can only hope they’ll continue to make great music together as they clearly are providing something not found anywhere else on the hip hop landscape.  Suggested Listening: All of it really, but you can peep the videos below before making up your mind.

“Are You… Can You… Were You?”


“Live at KEXP”

Asaad – New Black History Month – There’s a hint of token Philly recognition here, as the committee, of I and I, has been searching for Philly artists bringing something new to the table.  Given the way theyve reshaped the landscape of rap music it’s hard to ignore that there may be a bit of Lil’ B and Odd Future derivation here, especially with the backlash against the shock value of his recent single cover, and the alt-swag spaced out subject matter.  That said, Asaad is certainly creative and unique and has his own take, style, and  commentary.  There’s no doubt that he’s one to keep an eye out for, either he hasn’t put it all together yet or it just doesn’t quite make sense to me yet, but New Black History Month is one of those album/mixtapes I can’t seem to take out of my rotation, and its been there for several weeks now.  Suggested listening: “Kids Reading Comics,” and “Jumanji Flow (video below)”

Ab-Soul – Longterm Mentality – while all of the other members of Black Hippy seem to have garnered much more attention – at first Jay Rock, even a few years back, for (along with Nipsey Hu$$le) having the ability to potentially bring the “west back,” then Kendrick providing the West with a new lyrical leader, and then ScHoolboy Q for having a jaw-dropping technical delivery – Ab-Soul falls neatly within the crew with solid lyricism, lots of sociopolitical commentary, an impassioned delivery, a breadth of subject matter, heightened self-awareness, and a great ear for selecting great production.  While he may not be the most talented technical rapper of the Black Hippy collective, he certainly makes solid music, and brings a lot to the table for the crew and as a solo artist.  Suggested listening: “Big Payback” featuring Murs, “Constipation” Ab-Soul featuring Black Hippy, and the videos below.

“Gone Insane” Ab-Soul

“Turn Me Up” Ab-Soul featuring Kendrick Lamar

The Re-Emergence of Def Jux – sort of.  While the label officially dissolved a few years ago, the key artists and players have found a way to maintain (or some might argue re-gain) relevance.  After not dropping a formal rap album, or handling all production on one, since 2007’s I’ll Sleep When Your Dead, El-P has fans eagerly anticipating at least two albums in the same month, his collaboration with Killer Mike R.A.P. Music, and which seemingly has all the potential to be 2012’s evolutionary to Public Enemy, and his equally anticipated 3rd solo rap album Cancer 4 Cure.  While this paragraph may seem rife with hyperbole to some, check the links and see that it is far from that.  It’s also noteworthy that Cage, Aesop Rock, and NASA Suggested listening:

Killer Mike (produced by El-P) “Don’t Die”

Cancer 4 Cure‘s Official Album Trailer

Sugar Tongue Slim (STS) – Gold Rush – with the transition of B.o.B. to Grand Hustle and the inevitable popification of his craft (which was already well underway on his work prior to signing), we’ve seen less of him and his zany compatriots Homebwoi and Playboy Tre and their old mixtape antics.  STS, who has had a few small breaks (appearing on the Roots album, getting some co-signs, and joining Black Thought’s Making Jams Boys) since penning Ciara’s “Oh,” has the ability to fill the lane opened by the ascension of B.o.B. quite nicely, and perhaps follow the trajectory many hoped B.o.B. would follow (eg not The Love Belowish stuff).  Unfortunately, last year’s Illustrious, while it had its moments, fell a bit flat and left some with questions as to whether STS was ready to create a proper album, showcasing both his creativity and his mic skills.  This year he’s dropped Gold Rush and is already working on Gold Rush 2Being a mixtape in the truest form, complete with amusing flips of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know (video below)” and Kavinsky’s “Nightcall (video below),” it wasn’t quite worthy of discussion with the best albums of the 1st quarter, but there are certainly moments of promise there that could snowball into something really great.  Most importantly Sugar Tongue Slim makes fun rap, something that is certainly more prevalent in this day and age then it was a few years ago, but make no mistake, STS has mic skills, writing skills, and good musical instincts.  He’s been picking up steam for a few years now, and now has a pretty legitimate presence in the twitterverse and blogosphere, and it’ll be surprising if he doesn’t make bigger waves over the next twelve months. Suggested listening: Gold Rush (it’s free and fun, what more could you want).

“Cut Me Off” featuring Schoolie V

“Something About You”

Willie Green – So apparently this guy developed into a beast of a producer while I was in my time capsule.  Who knew?  Green is the type of producer who can carry less steller emcees, but he’s one of the few who has the wherewithal to work with some of the most dynamic emcees out.  This will undoubtedly help both him and the rappers he assists continue to gain attention as time goes on.  For now, check out his work with another up and comer – PremRock on their debut album or the remix album of the debut album.  Also check out his work on the undeniable new album from Billy Woods, History Will Absolve Me:

“Body of Work” – Billy Woods featuring Roc Marciano & Masai Bey (prod by Willie Green)

Open Mike Eagle – Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes – although overshadowed by the hype of Odd Future and commercial appeal of Black Hippy artists, Open Mike Eagle has established himself as a critical component of LA’s re-emergence.  In order to have a truly vibrant rap scene, it’s important to have artists across a variety of styles and achieving success at a variety of levels – critically, commercially, artistically, financially, independent, major – without that, history has shown that any scene stagnates and eventually declines.  At the forefront of LA’s resurgence is musical creativity and great writing and Open Mike Eagle brings a ton to the table in both categories. Suggested Listening: Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes.

Open Mike Eagle “Nightmares” (produced by Willie Green)

PremRock & Willie Green (featuring Open Mike Eagle) – “Jogger”

  1. […] While I Was Sleeping (A Synopsis of Things I Missed) […]

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