Archive for May, 2012

There have been thousands upon thousands of rappers over the course of rap’s thirty plus years to pick up the mic.  Very few rappers have ever spit their rhymes as effortlessly as Nacho Picasso.  That’s not to say rhymes just roll of his tongue with speed, in fact, he generally raps relatively slowly, enunciating every syllable, in what a kindergarten teacher might refer to as an “inside voice.”  The effortlessness comes from the lack of energy he puts into trying to emphasize his lines.  He’s like the anti-Onyx, sort of like Buck 65 if Buck 65 had a defined rap cadence and was a bad man influenced by history, mythology, 80’s and 90’s sitcoms, comic books, cartoons, drugs, guns, Seattle, loose women, and more drugs.

Perhaps the most impressive feat from Nacho is that three albums deep into his saga the listener still knows next to nothing about him as an individual.  Sure the constant drug references, sexual depravity, pop culture references, and occasional allusions to an ambiguously troubled youth and family hardship, paint some picture of his life.  However, all of his material is so emotionless and couched in hyperbole that its difficult to know what, if anything, to take seriously.  Larry Mizell, Jr‘s take on Exalted alludes to his desire to see the “angst” and “depression” “the Mr. Scarface shit”  as he calls it, that is usually not far behind the hedonism, but he acknowledges that we don’t quite get it here.  John Bugbee recently made an adept comparison to Cam’Ron and MF Doom, both of whom write rhymes filled humorous pop culture references, but both of those artists have relayed much deeper tales of personal struggle through their music.  Whether they are fictional or not, is beside the point that there are emotions presented, personal struggles relayed, stories that point to their humanity in Doom’s case or loss of it in Cam’s.  While Nacho may drop lines like “been a bad guy ever since my dad died,” (“Bad Guy” off For The Glory) “kill yourself like my dad’s mistress,” (“The Gods Don’t Favor You“) “I’d like to thank my momma for my negligence,” (“Surf Nazis must Die“) these are fleeting references, and are countered by lines where he references his father in the present tense “my dad’s a mad scientist” and random familial references tied right into the absurd, “I got mob ties, like Mob Wives / I’m traumatized Steve Jobs died / My mom’s high and I’m hogtied” and “my father’s Dirty Harry, my mother’s Bloody Mary” (“Mob Ties“).

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SpaceGhostPurrp – “Black God”

“I don’t have money, I don’t have cars / all I got is the truth and a couple of bars.” – SpaceGhostPurrp – “Mystikal Maze”

Rap artists, whether producers or rappers, come in a myriad form, but there are very few rap artists who have a truly visionary perspective and impact.  Artists who are able to not only create a new lane for themselves, but carve out a new niche in the rap game large enough for other like-minded individuals to follows suit and potentially find success.  Some artists, like The RZA or even Lil’ B, are able to create musical movements that cross the boundaries of the musical world into the spiritual world and inspire a cultish following of artists and fans.  Musical revivalism has been a strong theme throughout 21st Century hip hop, whether it’s been the Cool Kids reviving the striped down stabs of the 80’s, various producers trying to recapture the grimy mid-nineties SP1200/MPC-60/Akai950 crafted classics of the 5 boroughs, or the revitalization of country rap tunes by the likes of K.R.I.T. and Burn One.  More recently, within the last couple of years really, SpaceGhostPurrp, his affiliated Raider Klan (known in part for their specialized alphabet which excludes the use of vowels), and others in his more extensive circle, have brought about a new form of revivalism that combines both a sense of history beyond their years and a creative and innovative energy rarely paralleled on today’s rap scene.

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Its tough to think of another rapper to come out the gate so fully encompassing the range of his great Southern predecessors.  Very few rap artists can draw comparisons from such varied rappers with their music.  His music is at times has the ability to fill the spiritual void left by the absence of Andre 3000 and at other times able to recall the legacy of Pimp C.  While artists from that generation, like Big Boi and Bun B occasionally, or maybe even David Banner when he was at the top of his game, have the ability to express that type of range in their music, K.R.I.T.’s ability to summon those powerful voices is impressive given that most of his contemporaries tend to be focused in a very specific lane conceptually and compounded by the fact that he was a child when that type of Southern rap was most prevalent.    But if there’s anything that comes through above all else in Krit’s music it’s his sense of history, tradition, faith, and all things Southern.

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“Dope Man” – SL Jones & DJ Burn One

SL Jones is an emcee who’s continued to develop over the past half a decade.  Many listeners first became acquainted with him, along with Pill and others, as a part of Killer Mike’s Grind Time Rap Gang on I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind back in 2006.  Since then he put out a stellar debut album back in 2008 with C.O.L.O.R.S. and has dropped some stellar mixtapes/street albums over the past year including two versions of  The Number 23 mixtape, a free album Flight Risk, and a set of songs over Clams Casino instrumentals on Pandamonium: Rainforest EP Remixes (all of his material can be downloaded for free via Jonesy’s bandcamp).  While Jones has a lot of quality material out there, and has set himself apart as one of the south’s up and coming artists and the biggest name repping out of Little Rock, Arkansas, he – like mentor Killer Mike – had yet to work on a whole project with one producer until this most recent project.

Enter Atlanta’s DJ Burn One, a producer who has become one of the most sought after names for southern artists looking to create music in the legacy of greats like Organized Noize and the late Pimp C.  While there are a few other purveyors of fine country rap tunes out there, there are none currently doing it with the consistency and musicality of Burn One.  While K.R.I.T. certainly has an argument to dispute that notion, Burn One’s work with live instrumentation with iNDEED has really taken his technique to the next level recently.  Having produced for the likes of Freddie Gibbs, Pill, G-Mane, A$ap Rocky, G-Side, Bubba Sparxxx, Young Buck, Jackie Chain, Rittz, KD, and Starlito it is only a matter of time before DJ Burn One becomes a household name and a full on force in mainstream rap production, especially as the desire to revisit and progress the sounds of a bygone era continues to become more prevalent, as we’ve seen over the last couple years with the likes of SpaceGhostPurrp and Raider Klan affiliates like Lil’ Ugly Mane and others.  As powerful as Burn One’s work typically has been, he’s at his best on full length projects.  His work producing entire projects with iNDEED, Starlito, and G-Mane has proven his ability to create and direct great albums behind the boards.  In years past those projects likely would’ve already earned him the honor of executive producing albums at a mainstream level, with one label or another, but with the industry more focused on the single than ever, and a higher and higher percentage of the best full length projects being given away via bandcamp, datpiff, or livemixtapes Burn One remains appreciated as an industry tastemaker for his ability to locate and work with promising new artists, but under-appreciated (or at least underutilized) by rap’s mainstream for his abilities behind the boards.  However, if 2012 continues the same way it has begun for Burn One, that is likely to change quickly.

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Raz “10 Feet Tall”

So I’m working on some new things that will undoubtedly come out this week and next, but I’ve got to say there’s a lot of artists this year who’ve set the bar pretty high, so far this year.  Anyway, if anybody is following this blog and wants to stay up on more momentary interests in between bigger features, reviews, and interviews – I have a tumblr associated with this site for smaller more momentary things.  hardwoodblacktop.tumblr.com is the site, and recently I’ve put up a couple videos from a rapper named Raz or Razpy out of Seattle, that I came across just the other day on my old stomping grounds steadybloggin.com.  Anyway, there’s not a ton of material out there widely on the net about this guy.  But his rep seems to be quickly picking up steam.  Below are some of the better examples of what he has up his sleeve that are out there.  I will tend to keep full releases on this site, and cover some up and coming artists and individual songs more on the tumblr.  So if you’re interested, be sure to follow both.

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From the opening left to right fading vocal sample followed by mischievous laughter, and humming bass and finally crashing into the peaceful singing of Sea of Bees, on “Automated Oceans,” it’s clear that Young L has not brought his listeners the traditional rap mixtape.  Conceptually, Enigma Theory primarily revolves around themes of struggle, depression, pain, and perseverance.   In contrast the production is airy, lighthearted, and ethereal, often driven by bassed-up vocal samples and synths.  With the exception of a handful of tracks, the drums on the album are sparse timekeepers, occasionally non-factors in the equation, bringing more emphasis on bass, vocals, and fading effects to accentuate the rhythm and tempo of the music.

While the production on the mixtape has already drawn comparisons to the work of Clams Casino, and there are similarities, it’s important to notice that the work of the two is distinct in a few ways, and has developed in a similar time frame.  Clams has become known, due to his work with Lil’ B on songs like “I’m God,” and “Motivation,” A$ap Rocky’s “Wassup,” “Demons,” and “Palace,” as someone ushering in a new phase of airy vocal sampling.  While Young L may be more noted for his more hyphy relevant work with artists from the Bay, including his group The Pack, Young L has encorporated elements of this approach for a few years as well, Mike Dash’s “Sides,” Lil’ B & Young L’s “Randy Moss,” Freeway’s “HAM Extreme,” Mac Miller’s “Diamonds & Gold,” Steezy Steve’s “Shit You Read About,” (which flips the same Enya sample as The Fugees’ “Ready or Not“) all showcased his interest and adeptness at executing music in this vein.  However, here Young L takes his approach to the next level, and rather than bringing in a guest emcee to benefit from his skills behind the boards, he uses the mixtape as a billboard for his own notoriety, much in the same way that some of the great producers with mic skills have done in the past (eg Jay Dee, Madlib, Pete Rock, Alchemist, Oh No, Diamond D).

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“Neck Uv Da Woods” – Mystikal featuring OutKast  (produced by Earthtone III)

There’s an important conversation in hip hop production that rarely takes place publicly regarding OutKast’s musical production and much of the Dungeon Family’s work from ’96 through ’03.  Organized Noize (ONP) has rightfully been given a massive amount of credit, and it could be effectively argued that they don’t get enough credit, for their groundbreaking and region defining production work with OutKast, Goodie Mob, TLC, En Vogue, Witchdoctor, Cool Breeze, Society of Soul, Sleepy’s Theme, Lil Will, Backbone, The Calhouns and many others.  Yet in the appreciation of the production work specifically related to OutKast, and occasionally related to other Dungeon Family acts, some key names are often overlooked and under-appreciated in the production credits: Andre Benjamin (Dre or 3000), David Sheats (Mr. DJ), and Antwan Patton (Big Boi).

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