Posts Tagged ‘Cancer 4 Cure’

2012 has been an exceptional year for rap music.  It’s hard to think of a year over the course of the last half a decade that saw the release of so many excellent rap albums.  Remarkably ten of the albums that made the Hardwood Blacktop Top Fifteen for 2012 were produced by just one producer, in three cases (Grief Pedigree, Mista Thug Isolation, and Skelethon) the albums were entirely self-produced by the artist.  Also of note, only two of the top fifteen this year were released by Major Labels, granted there were a few major label releases that were on the cusp of this list (Live From The Underground, The Game’s Jesus Piece, Big Boi’s Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors, Nas’s Life Is Good, and Mr. MFN eXquire’s Power & Passion), a few others of some note (2Chainz, Rick Ross, Meek Mill, Self Made Vol. 2, Cruel Summer), and there’s still major label releases from TI and Chief Keef to contend with before the year is out.  That said, at this point we can be reasonably confident by the sheer excellence of these fifteen albums and by the recent batting averages of the two remaining contenders that in all likelihood this list will stand-up as HB’s Best of 2012 even after the release of Trouble Man, and Finally Rich.  What this tells us more than ever is that some of the best rap music these days is released for free (six of the list’s fifteen albums were at least at one point available at no cost), without major label financial or promotional backing (thirteen of fifteen), and that nothing beats the artistic clarity and vision of a rapper sitting down with one producer (or all by himself) and pouring his heart and soul into a project.  May 2012 bless us with as many substantial rap albums as 2012 did.

15 Most Noteworthy Rap Albums of 2012:

Ka “Vessel”

1. Ka – Grief Pedigree

It’s hard not to root for the underdog and Ka certainly qualifies as that given his interesting, but unheralded career as a non-central member of 90’s NYC underground favorites Natural Elements, and as a solo artist with a sparse guest spot discography, and one promising, but underdeveloped solo album.  It seems that he must have been galvanized by the success of close friend and collaborator Roc Marciano, who took him under his wing a bit on the production tip a bit during the creation of Grief Pedigree.  Interestingly enough though as we look back at the year, Ka championed the nearly drumless gritty sample without the boom-bap production aesthetic at a time when Roc reportedly told him “you might be in for some quiet shows,” and yet Roc ended the year by releasing an album where his own utilization of that rebellious percussion technique stands as the lone criticism from many purists on his excellent Reloaded.  Although Reloaded may have been a more polished and ultimately more musically stunning album, like good kid, m.A.A.d cityGrief Pedigree earns some points for it’s unusual vantage point.  Ka provides the unique perspective of an aging rapper, a veteran of the drug war’s trenches during the NY crack era, but who never made enough as a rapper or through other means to move out of Brownsville.  With Grief Pedigree, Ka combines Rakim’s approach to rhyming by using his words to craft complete rhythmic structures and patterns that you can almost visualize – like architectural designs or seismograph print-outs – with Nasty Nas’s ability to describe his surroundings so intricately that the listener begins to feel and smell the world being narrated around them.  The whole album is connects with the senses in a way so little music manages to do these days.  And then there are the bars.  A lot of rappers claim to be lyricists, and a lot of critics spend times trying to debate the merits of certain types of lyrics or punchlines over others.  That said, those who invest an engaged listen are rewarded with lyrical gemstones:

“I own the night, the heat’s my receipt”

“Stayed in hell all my life, I need heaven’s visa / Know it’s right, but can’t change over night, like Ebenezer”

In Kings county where the Queen never faked a jack/  the mac-10, and a 9, and my Ace is strapped”

In case you missed it: Here are the two pieces of the interview I did with Ka this year on the making of Grief Pedigree (Part 1: Track-by-Track, Part 2: Additional words)

And here is the entire album in video form in one place, like the rhymes and production, all of the videos are directed by Ka himself.

Ka – Grief Pedigree (the complete video collection in long form)

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 “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”

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