Things From the Week – April 15th – April 22nd

Posted: April 22, 2012 in Hip Hop, Things From The Week
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

 “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:

Fiend (International Jones) – “Ol’ Habits” featuring Trademark Skydiver

After enjoying Asaad’s New Black History Month mixtape from earlier this year, Hardwood Blacktop was hopeful that Asaad could put it all together on his obligatory 4/20 release White, which is downloadable for free.  Unfortunately, White features some of the same issues that Asaad’s previous releases have faced, as inconsistency, a mixture of original and overly familiar borrowed production, and a steady diet of rehashed subject matter from previous releases all litter the release.  Standout cuts like “Dinner at Michele’s” and “Have Fun” continue to showcase the type of album that Asaad could put together if he got together enough top notch production, focused, and spent time puting together 12-13 of his best cuts from a year of work, rather than dispearsing those 12-14 cuts over four or five releases a year.

For talented young emcees, of which Asaad is certainly a member, in an era with a million digital avenues for their creative diahrea, it’s very hard to balance creative drive with quality control.  The fact that fans will quickly cling to each new digital release as the greatest thing since the dawn of facebook one week, and move on to something else the next, increases the likelihood that artists will continue to release music in this fashion.  Unfortunately, for every Lil’ B, who manages to convert this “bedroom studio to a million youtube views” aesthetic into success, there are tens of thousands of emcees who struggle as a result attempting to keep up with this consumption methodology.  It’s hard to see this changing with artists who have grown up in this era and balance their time equally between the recording and social media, and labels more interested in increasing internet traffic than putting out quality music, but there’s no denying their ability to put their best foot forward.

Asaad – Dinner At Michele’s (
Asaad – “Dinner at Michele’s”

South Philly resident producer and emcee Lushlife, dropped his new album Plateau Vision, which is seemingly getting some love from various online media outlets.  Lushlife is very talented as a producer and musician, creating some excellent beats on the album, highlighted by standout cut “Still I Hear The Word Progress,” featuring Styles P, and really nothing resembling a dud from a beatmaking perspective.  The biggest issue the album has is it’s referential nature.  History has shown that albums that attempt to sonically recapture the 90’s aesthetic, must live and breath independently, without “remember when” and “back then,” and too much hand-tipping reminiscence. Plateau Vision is painfully aware of its own inspirations, direction, and historical vantage point, rendering it a bit contrived and harming the listening experience for those who like Lushlife, actually lived through period of reference.

It’s also important that the emcee’s lyrical skills and stylistic development exist beyond the typical check out my Illmatic influenced flow sense.  On Plateau Vision, Lushlife comes off as what he is, an avid student of the hip hop game, who loved quintessential New York City 90’s rap and also has deep musical roots and influences, trying to make an excessively referential hip hop album as opposed to one with its own unique vision and depth.  While the character he creates for himself as an emcee has appropriate slang and knows the ins and outs of the 90’s experience to a degree, there’s nothing exceptional about his lyricism, stories, delivery, or point of view on the album, and he fails to dive into the era in the same way that for example Lil Ugly Mane jumps into mid-90’s southern shock rap on Mista Thug Isolation  If the song has a 90’s sibling, it’s A.D.O.R.’s Shock Frequency, a decent album to be sure, featuring some even classic hip hop cuts, but given the potential from a production standpoint (Shock Frequency featured some excellent work from Pete Rock, Diamond D, and DJ Clark Kent), the emceeing must be left to fault for the fact that it did not capture the public imagination.

It’s worth stating that many hardcore 90’s hip hop heads love, Shock Frequency, and yearn for more modern music in the same vein and quality.  Those fans will likely find themselves thoroughly enjoying Plateau Vision.  However, given the quality of production here, the beats could’ve been better put to use across the releases of a dozen golden era rappers still trying to hold onto the vibe or recapture the feeling, or to a slew of newjacks who have managed to combine their own experiences with a 90’s musical vibe more effectively.  The album’s best moments “Still I Hear the Word Progress,” and “Hale-Bopp was the Bedouins” both benefit enormously from Lushlife passing the mic to more talented emcees for a portion of the cut (Styles P on the former, and Heems from Das Racist on the latter), while also stepping a bit outside of the 90’s aesthetic production-wise.  On the whole there’s a lot of talent here, but Lushlife still needs to work on the appropriate formats to channel it if he wants his music to have a broader impact.

Choice Cut:

Lushlife – “Still I Hear the Word Progress” featuring Styles P

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