Archive for the ‘Best of 2nd Q 2012’ Category

“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.


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“).


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.


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.


“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.


Dating back to his 2000 appearance on Outkast’s “Funkanella,” Killer Mike has shown with almost every feature, single, and album that he had the ability to rip microphones to shreds.  Having a great deal of range – the ability to inspire street goons, college students, grown men, and teenie boppers at different points in his career – Mike, as almost a third emcee in Outkast during the “Land of a Million Drums,” “The Whole World,” “A.D.I.D.A.S.,” era between Stankonia and Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, seemed destined for rap stardom.  His well-regarded debut album, Monster, went gold, and his sophomore album Ghetto Extraordinatory lead by the Big Boi featured the hit single, “My Chrome,” seemed certian to follow in suit.  Instead, label and business issues took over, and the album ultimately got shelved after multiple delays.  Around the same time Dungeon Family members all seemed to either drift apart or splinter, and Big Boi and Killer Mike parted ways, and Mike elected to go the independent route after his buzz had subsided a by with 2006’s I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind.  Mike gained a little more distribution for I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II, before finally getting some Grand Hustle support for 2011’s Pledge 3.   While the Pledge series contained a lot of great moments, and really showcased Mike’s range, it for the most part lacked the mainstream appeal and label promotion that Mike’s early work had, while he was such an intregral member of Dungeon Family, at a time when they were still an industry staple.  Perhaps equally important, while his albums post-Monster were well produced, they lacked the funky eclecticism that made some of his work with ‘Kast so inspiring – the production simply did not juxtapose Killer’s thunderous metronomic flow with dynamic groundbreaking production the same way greats like Mr. DJ and Outkast, among others had done earlier in Mike’s career.



 “Screaming at the top of our airbags, this is our timing, we are not dying – not for you, not for you, not for you.” – El-P “Request Denied” 

Cancer 4 Cure‘s first track, “Request Denied,” starts out a dark muted harbinger, something like the sounding of a very distant alarm on humid evening, and then after a brief introductory vocal sample, the drums drop into a discotechish slam dance rhythm, as samples, keys, synths, and El’s trade mark “woooooo”s perforate the track.  Nearly three minutes into the intro, the drums fall out and the track devolves into a driving bassline vaguely reminiscent of the Doors sample off Jay-Z’s “The Takeover,” and El steps to the mic to begin his third solo rap opus. “Request Denied,” has all the elements of a call to arms, and many of the common El-P themes are present, the trademark paranoia, the classic distrust of authority, and the rage against the mindless drones for starters.  That said, from the onset, it’s clear this album is not the sonically self-absorbed apocalypse factory of Fantastic Damage.

If there’s a major thematic evolution that’s occured slowly since Fantastic Damage, through I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead and on to Cancer 4 Cure it’s in the way El-Producto handles death.  Fantastic Damage was influenced enough by NYC on the heals of 9/11 that El’s paranoia had created a soundtrack for armageddon, an album where sonically buildings were crumbling and smashing the walls of established hip hop musicality. I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead had El-P raging against the misinformation, torture, war while coming to grips with the non-imminence of his own demise suggesting, “you in the same barrel all us other crabs are caught. And if I have to live, you have to live, whether you like this shit or not” (“Poisonville Kids Win Again”).  The title Cancer 4 Cure alludes to a sense that for every silver lining there’s a dark cloud, and a notion that with every panacea come side effects and diseases.  On a surface level it’s a reference to the death of El-P’s close friend and brilliant collaborator Camu Tao, who’s promising career and life were taken by lung cancer in 2008, but it also represents an acknowledgement that everyone is in this crazy life together and death is lurking for all, no matter how we dress it up:

“Don’t you ever try to say you’re not one of us my love, we are the touched, we are entrusted with the same tomorrow.” – El-P “$4 Vic”