Archive for the ‘Best of 4th Q 2012’ Category

In 2012 Roc Marciano is the slickest motherfucker on the planet, but it wasn’t always that way. Despite over ten years perfecting his craft as a member of Flipmode Squad, The UN, (interesting situations that he thankfully never bats an eye at lyrically) and as a solo artist, when Roc dropped Marcberg in 2010, he was just getting around to telling his story to rap fans.  Marcberg was an unequivocably strong testament, proving that a New York rapper with ties to 90’s NYC rap could make a legitimate classic minimalistic boom-bap sample-based rap album over a decade removed from that era.  Many considered Marcberg a throwback masterpiece, and there were obvious elements of a hustler’s crack era nostalgia, but those who classified it as a successful 90’s themed boom-bap record did miss the point a bit.  There had been literally thousands of unsuccessful 90’s NYC throwback albums over from ’05 through ’10, but with Marcberg Roc somehow managed to create a distinct artistic statement.  Entirely produced and written by Roc – aside from one guest shot from Metal Clergy cohort Ka (a pattern Ka would mirror on his second album Grief Pedigree) – it was marked by a stark and dusty minimalism sonically and the words of a slick talking hustler with the unique ability to paint crystal clear imagery and illuminate his own set of Scarface dreams.  Roc wasn’t merely reminiscing about the 90’s nor was he trying to relive them in 2010, he was narrating his own blaxploitation flick set nebulously in the crack era.  The story line was one of criminality, street hustling, the pimp game, and turf wars.

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The art of creating a memorable EP is a difficult task, especially in an era where music is consumed and left by the wayside at such a breakneck pace.  For one, the brevity generally means that in order for it to be a truly successful product there can be absolutely no filler.  If an artist attempts to make the product too cohesive it can end up sounding like one long song, but if an artist tries to showcase his versatility it often ends up sounding like a mess.  Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire has dropped some high quality mixtapes over the last few years, which seemed to showcase an unprecedented potential to occupy a space somewhere between Kool Keith and Jay-Z, Gucci Mane, Ghostface, and El-P as eX has dropped allusions to Clockwork OrangeWeird Science, and Philip K. Dick novels right alongside references to Cari Zalloni frames and Maison Martin Margiela kicks over everything from pop/r&b instrumentals to spaced out Def Jux type beats and somehow manages to make his approach appealing to a fairly wide array of fans.

Coming into the game on the heels of the most substantial drought of talented New York rappers in rap history, there are many who have, or will place, high expectations on eXquire merely out of a desire to see NY return to a place of prominence in the music industry.  Be that as it may, there is an ease with which eXquire navigates the rap world that is definitely unusual.  Few artists can pull off collaborations with trap rappers and nerd rappers, and seem perfectly at home with both camps.

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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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