Archive for June, 2012

Listening to Troy Ave should be refreshing for any fan of New York rap.  In an era where so much of New York rap is either golden age revivalism, or a bit left of center stylistically, it’s nice to hear a New York rapper who is neither beholden to a bygone era, still trying to develop his style and skills, nor caught up in the process of re-inventing the rap wheel.  Troy manages to effectively pick up on the tenants of New York City street rap, emphasize the cocaine dealer angle, and rap over production that manages to sound both current and comfortable within the confines of the Big Apple – an admittedly tough task in today’s rap game where NYC has been removed from mainstream rap dominance for so long that most of the identifiable New York rappers, are well over 30 and frequently rap over production better suited to Jeezy, Rick Ross, or some southern flavor du jour.

Vocally Troy Ave is vaguely reminiscent of AZ, a flow similar to 50 Cent, and elements of Pusha T’s witty coke don condescension.  While he’s pushing the coke rap angle hard in his music, Troy manages, like the Clipse on Hell Hath No Fury, to integrate his lifestyle as purveyor of cocaine into a reasonably wide array of subject matter and manages to create music conveying several moods effectively.  It is in this sense that Troy comes across more dynamically than many simple drug-related mixtape rappers, who focus primarily counting 38’s, referencing appropriate slang, and breaking down the favorable economics of their profession.  Let’s be clear, Troy Ave is not motivated by the concept of blazing a new trail in terms of content or format – the listener is not going to be exposed to a truly innovative approach to rap music – what Troy does do effectively, is add a polish and nuance to the coke rap sub-genre and exhibit the range and depth to suggest he has the ability to create a solid rap album.

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Historically, Rap crews generally tend to develop locally, but groups of like-minded artists coming together through the internet has been in practice for well over a decade now, as archaic forms of internet communication like AOL chatrooms and hip hop message boards gave emcees and producers a way to collaborate at a distance and form new duos, groups, and crews, sometimes without having ever met one another.  The dawn of Myspace only made this type of remote collaboration easier and more common, and developments like facebook, youtube, twitter, dropbox, tumblr, and soundcloud have made it commonplace.  Still, it is unusual to find a crew as large as SpaceGhostPurrp’s Raider Klan, with so much interconnection in their music, and so many remote outposts and crew members so dedicated to a similar purpose.  Furthermore the Raider Klan like one of their early influences NWA has shown an early ability to influence the development of similarly themed rap crews all over the map.

The Raider Klan’s inter-regional membership accentuates their most interesting sonic characteristics – their post-regional surrealist nostalgic phonk, made up of a concoction of mid-90’s Memphis underground, early 90’s diasporic G-funk, RZA’s early 90’s layering of film sound effects (in this case often video game samples from Mortal Kombat or the moans of female porn stars), and occasional hints of Miami Bass.  Listening to Raider Klan is like listening to rap in a bizarro alternate dimension where the dominant influences on the commercial rap scene were Screw tapes, Memphis underground tapes from artists like Three 6 Mafia, Frayser Click, Kingpin Skinny Pimp, double time midwest artists like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Crucial Conflict, early nineties West Coast NWA, D.O.C., Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Texas hardcore rap, hints of early 90’s 5%er influenced Afrocentricity, Mortal Kombat arcade games, codeine, and robitussin and they all arrived hermetically sealed in a time capsule in the basement of each member along with a bag of OG Kush and a SpaceGhostPurrp decoder ring.  While chronologically many of those things occured during roughly the same time period, Raider Klan is made up predominantly of 90’s babies, who either absorbed much of this era through the passion of their parents and older family members, or through thorough research of youtube archivists who have made so many things from the early and mid-nineties readily available for nostalgic 30/40 somethings, or intrigued youth.

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“Matter of Minutes” Illogic & Blockhead

Illogic and Blockhead seem like a natural pairing for those who have followed the independent rap scenes of New York and Columbus closely for the last fifteen years.  On the Eastern cusp of the Mid-West, Columbus rappers often made the 9 hour trek to NYC to bring their unique flavor to the larger NYC independent scene.  The likes of the late Camu Tao and his MHZ crew (Copywrite, Tage Proto, Jakki, RJD2) made a seemless transition into the NYC-based Def Jux/Eastern Conference fold in the early 00’s, and while Blueprint maintained a local presence with his Weightless imprint and gained more national attention through his work with Minnesota’s Rhymesayers.  As one of the more prominent and talented independent artists to come out of Ohio in recent memory, it is Illogic’s more intellectual, artistic, and perhaps avant-garde slant in his music that makes him such a perfect match for a producer like Blockhead, who of course cut his teeth as the primary producer behind Aesop Rock’s most hailed projects.  Blockhead, known for melodic, quietly snared, minimalism, perfect for more introspective and contemplative lyricism, had a pretty full-plate until relatively recently between his work with Aesop Rock, Chase Phoenix, a solo instrumental hip hop career, and producing for other Def Jukies and affiliates as well as artists on small NYC imprints like johnny23, Embedded, and Nature Sounds among others.  As has been alluded to often, and occasionally discussed, Aesop Rock’s move out to the Bay Area a few years back has physically and perhaps creatively put some space between himself and former NYC collaborators, including long-time friend and primary collaborator Blockhead.  While Aesop and Blockhead still work together and remain close, Aesop has stated his need to go to entirely self-producing Skelethon in order to get in the proper creative groove for the record (despite the ease of collaboration over the internet, Aesop, like El-P and Ka for example, is among the few rappers and producers  who still strongly prefer to work in close physical proximity to collaboratively develop the proper cohesion for an album).  The absence of Aesop as a primary collaborator and the dead ball era of modern nerd rap (2008-2010) left Blockhead predominantly focused on instrumental work and only occasionally collaborating with emcees who spark his interest.

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