Archive for October, 2012

It is worth acknowledging that this is exactly the type of album on which rap writers love to cut their teeth, bring out their axes to grind, and throw all of their personal prejudices and hang-ups into the mix as well.  There will be those who praise this album as the greatest rap album of the last decade and those who decry it as a massive disappointment.  It’s the type of album where pay-per-click websites are dying for their staff to write about it, and it’s the type of album writers love to talk about in the most hyperbolic terms possible to attract as much attention as possible.  Critics have been spending the last week discussing why this album is doomed to fail: the excessive hype, the fact that Kendrick is being asked to deliver a classic major label debut despite the fact that he doesn’t have a track record that necessarily suggests that’s a probability, the fact that the things Kendrick does best don’t necessarily translate well with the popular radio rap aesthetic, the fact that very few rappers deliver their first classic album on their third full length album, and the likelihood that Aftermath/Interscope would force him to sacrifice too much of his creativity and individuality in favor of more commercially viable material.  It’s also worth noting that all of these seem like legitimate concerns.  Add to that the pressure on Kendrick to deliver an album that both returns the West Coast to the forefront of the industry and an album that shows that rappers who can rap their ass off are still allowed to do so in the world of mainstream rap.  It’s fair to say that expectations around this album seem nearly insurmountable.

good kid, m.A.A.d city starts with the sound of someone flicking on an old reel to reel era family video of two boys praying to Jesus to beg forgiveness and ask salvation and guidance. Eery keys begin to penetrate mid-prayer slowly developing into the backdrop of a story tale dedication to “Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter.”  There’s a constant push and pull through good kid, m.A.A.d city, between a teenager who wants to do the right thing, wants salvation, but is constantly challenged by sin, desire, and the allure of women and the streets. It’s a push and pull felt by everyone one form or another, accentuated by the temptations of the city and the magnetism of the lifestyle presented by the rappers he and his friends idolize.

This has been a great year for albums that are musical cohesive, or stylistically cohesive, good kid, m.A.A.d City is not always either of those, but it maintains its cohesion through a much less frequently used methodology – and one that’s much more difficult to pull off on a rap album – thematic and narrative cohesion.  The story that Kendrick has to tell is a different narrative of authenticity in rap music.  good kid, m.A.A.d city is a narrative relevant to 2012 and a personal narrative from an artist who grew up in a society filled with drugs, crime, violence, and poverty, who tried to stay out of trouble, but couldn’t always avoid its enticement.  It’s a story that nearly anyone can relate to, but it’s also the real story of so many of today’s rappers.  What makes the story unique is that unlike most of his peers, Kendrick Lamar is comfortable telling it and owning it, and recognizes that the listener will connect to it despite his lack of posturing and the refusal to bow to the whims of the record industry’s misguided perception of who a rapper – particularly a rapper from Los Angeles or Compton – should be and how he should act on record.  The fact that this album was made at all is a minor miracle, and the fact that Kendrick pulled it off so well on a mainstream stage is nothing short of remarkable.

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The legitimate production crew or group, as opposed to the group of producers who work individually (eg DITC), is not an aberration in rap music – Organized Noize, Neptunes, Block Beataz, Earthtone III – but it’s not all that common either.  Even less common is getting to hear the group really let their hair down and make music for themselves without serious commercial aspirations getting in the way.  Earthtone III was mainly concerned with producing their own work and that of a few other Dungeon Fam rappers, N.E.R.D. made some great music, but the charts always seemed to be an aim in one form or another, Organized Noize’s closest attempt probably came with the historically snoozed upon Sleepy’s Theme album Vinyl Room.  In many ways Vinyl Room might be a reasonable sonic ancestor for iNDEEDFACE if Sleepy’s Theme had been into psychotropics and irreverence.


iNDEED “Black Tears”

When iNDEED dropped the iNDEED EP, earlier this year, I made the remark in my review ,of the also 5PMG produced Paraphernalia album from Burn One & SL Jones, that the EP begged consideration for album of the year despite it’s short length.  Although the EP was an excellent introduction to the members of Five Points Music Group as a standalone band, the “album of the year” contender comment was probably a bit hasty for a seven song EP.  What the seven song EP did display was the ability to make great individual songs, often in completely different styles, from the Neptunes-esque “More Than a Dance” to the pimp meets mosh-pit “Brass Knuckles,” to the RZA influenced “Black Tears” to the trademarked straight-up 5PMG sound on “The Pinkpather.”  What the EP didn’t quite make clear the direction or vision of the band: Would iNDEED have a frontman or just rotate singers and rappers in? Would they have a signature sound or be more like a stylized hip hop interpolation band?  What was clear was that they could make great music and that they had a lot of fun in the process. In typical tireless DJ Burn One fashion, iNDEED is now back just a few months later to bless us all with a full length project to show a more fully realized vision of precisely what it is that they have to offer the music world.

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Although this has been a year filled with some mysterious characters, those that shy away from the limelight, those with alter-egos, and those who avoid social media, Lil’ Ugly Mane has to be one of the rap games most mysterious artists these days.  No twitter account, goes on prolonged facebook hiatuses, fluctuates the prices of his bandcamp albums, dropping cassette tape only physical releases and extremely limited edition t-shirts.  Add to that his various sonic influences, vocal modulators, split producer and rapper personas, lack of concerts, and limited reliable information online and there’s a legitimate veil around Lil Ugly Mane that adds to the mystique of his art.

I caught up with Lil Ugly Mane to talk about what he’s been up to and when we can expect the follow up to this year’s excellent Mista Thug Isolation. I also asked him to explain why he unplugged from the net in May, his production techniques and his writing process.  Along the way we discussed why he feels rap is as standardized as ever, the saturation of the sound he, SpaceGhostPurrp, and others brought to the forefront, and why his next album could sound very different from Mista Thug Isolation and Playaz Circle

JB: After dropping Mista Thug Isolation, and aside from a couple appearances on the SupaSonic project you produced for Supa Sortahuman this year, you really have laid pretty low this year other than picking up a few production credits.  What have you been working on? 

Lil Ugly Mane:

I’m constantly producing – it’s literally all I do most of the time – but i scrap a lot of shit or just forget that it exists. I do a lot of waiting around for the right beat to happen.  I don’t wanna just rap on bullshit that’s good, I need production to fluidly make sense in regards to mixtapes and what not, quality of quantity I guess, don’t wanna drop 20 mixtapes.  I respect people that can pull that shit off, but its not me, everything I make I want to resonate on certain tones precisely and I cant do that unless everything is how it already exists in my head.  Right now I’m like neck deep in beats and lyrics that I’m trying to make sense of.
JB: I hear you.  Jumping into that process for a second… as a rapper how do you approach song writing?  Are you writing lyrics all the time and fitting it to the appropriate beat when you find it?  Or do you write to your beats? Or I should say, do you write only to the beat that you’re going to record a song over?

Lil Ugly Mane:

Honestly, the whole process for writing is along the same lines as beat making for me. A lot of time shit just happens when it happens.  I don’t like to force myself to do anything, I think the end product suffers when you put deadlines and expectations on shit.  But I mean usually when I’m writing, I write to old Lord Finesse instrumentals and or like Premo instrumentals and shit – I wrote cup fulla beetlejuice over the Smif N Wessun “Bucktown” instrumental – I dont know why really, I just think it takes me back to like middle school when you are just making rhymes cuz its fun or you’re bored, there isnt any bullshit attached to it.

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