Posts Tagged ‘Ethelwulf’

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There have never been more divergent definitions for what makes a rapper good at rapping than there have been in 2012.   HB’s formula is made up primarily of technique (originality as well as execution), writing (complexity as well as relatability), and the degree to which a rapper can draw you into his or her own world.  None of this is a science, but there’s no doubt that the work of these 10 individuals stood out in 2012 (in no definite order).  Happy New Year.

Roc Marciano “76”

Roc Marciano

Roc Marcy’s ascension from the trenches to the parapets was pretty meteoric.  In hindsight, the ease with which he executed this transition over just a two year period has to have a lot to do with the decade plus he had in the game before   he really blessed the world at large with a proper solo debut.  Training alongside the likes of Busta Rhymes & Flipmode, developing his craft with the U.N. & Pete Rock, and polishing his solo skills for a few years before releasing Marcberg had a huge impact on his end game.  Roc’s and partner Ka’s journeys are the type that makes one chuckle at the plight of young rappers who have been at it for 12-18 months and complain that they are being slept on.  Come back and say that in a decade or two.  Regardless of the journey, Roc’s craft is just on a different level than all of his contemporaries at this stage.  He unloads vivid imagery and slick talk at a pace that even makes Ka seems a bit out of place alongside him at times.  In some ways it’s easier to compare Roc at this point in his career to Iceberg Slim or Donald Goines than it is to compare him to Meek Mill, Future, or Chief Keef.  It ain’t checkers it’s chess.

Emeralds,” “76,” “My Persona,” “We Ill

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The distinction between albums, LPs, EPs, and mixtapes was at it’s cloudiest point to date in 2012, and there is relatively no chance that any of those distinctions crystallize into something meaningful ever again.  The reality is that these days most rappers put together “projects,” and those projects either get released for free or they get released for a fee.  Among the projects that get released for free are those where a rapper raps over other people’s instrumentals or samples he or she has no intention of trying to clear.  There are also projects labeled as mixtapes or given away for free, that have entirely original production that get released for free and some of those projects ended up on Hardwood Blacktop’s Best 15 Albums of 2012 list.  To be honest, I’m not overly concerned with those distinctions anymore other than the fact that those of us who like to write about rap like to have a way to differentiate between certain types of releases for the purpose of end of the year lists and things like that.  So here are my picks for best mixtapes of 2012, by my own current loosely defined understanding of that term, which does not necessarily take into account whether a rapper deemed something a mixtape or not (but it might).  In general these projects are not of nearly as high quality as the top albums of 2012, otherwise they would’ve made that list, as you can see from that list there are a couple of “albums” that made the cut that most would classify as mixtapes (Sunday School, ParaphernaliaGod of Black EP, MMM Season).  If you’re keeping score at home, those projects would have been at the top of this list.

Meek Mill featuring Big Sean – “Burn”

1. Meek Mill – Dreamchasers 2 – Download

Sometimes a rapper’s (Jadakiss, Fabolous, and Joe Budden just to name a few) game just translates a little bit better to the mixtape circuit than it does to album making.  Whether that has to do with them being better situated to making “street singles” than it does to them making tracks for the club or radio, or whether it has to do with the lack of record label oversight in the mixtape process, or whether the DJs they work with in the mixtape process are actually better A&R’s than their record label A&R’s, the end result is a consistently better free product vs. fee product. It’s too early to say that Meek Mill will always fall into that category as his major label debut Dreams & Nightmares certainly showed promise and contained some great individual songs (“Dreams & Nightmares (Intro)” and “Traumatized”).  There is no doubt though that in 2012, Meek dropped another mixtape (he’s done this a few times before) that was better than a vast majority of the albums that came out in the same year.  Perhaps the most interesting part of Meek as a mixtape artist is that he’s not just someone who drops a flurry of battle-ready sixteens over a bunch of other people’s instrumentals. In fact, some of his best radio singles have been the result of his mixtape work over the last couple of years, hits like last year’s “House Party,” “Tupac Back” and “I’m A Boss” and this year’s “Burn,” “Amen,” and “Flexing” all came from his mixtapes or from the MMG compilations.  By contrast  only  from the first MMG compilation (a mixtape-like project) has really garnered the same buzz.  And while his label has pushed the hell out of “Young and Gettin’ It,” there’s just no way that’s a better direction for Meek than any of the aforementioned tracks.  Dreamchasers 2 was Meek’s most complete offering to date, bringing tracks suitable to almost every type of rap listener and packing plenty of that V-12 energy we’ve come to expect from Philly’s brightest star. While it does drag on a bit as songs begin to run together a little bit after the first nine or ten tracks on the mixtape, there may not have been a better example of hungry street-oriented rapping in 2012.

Choice Cuts: “Burn,” “Amen,” “Ready Or Not,” “A1 Everything

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SpaceGhostPurrp – “Tha Phonk”

There’s been a serious drought of Raider Klan material over the last month (despite these two releases this week) – which has to be something strategic given their propensity to release music at a pretty rapid pace.  Perhaps they’re gearing up for some new solos (Amber London and SpaceGhostPurrp both have new projects on the way in the next month or so), but perhaps they’re gearing up for the Raider Klan’s official group mixtape, which has been discuss a lot in my interviews with them, despite the lack of any official word.

This week I’ve decided to go with two new Raider Klan mixes highlighting one area of their work which is probably over discussed with relation to their catalog – their 90’s themed phonk music – and the other which is under documented – their more ethereal, spiritual, and occasionally socio-political music.  Everyone, who has any sense of the Raider Klan, has a pretty good sense of the fact that they’re 90’s babies who frequently recall the music and imagery of their birth decade and reimagine g-funk, Memphis underground, and DJ Screw – along with many other subgenres – themed music into a modern context.  The reality is that looking at them as a collective (something which is somewhat problematic given their diversity of styles) they really don’t create “90’s music” that often when compared to some of today’s revivalists, especially as a percentage of their overall catalog.  It’s certainly not an insubstantial portion of their catalog and there are individual artists like Amber London, Ethelwulf, and Key Nyata that more frequently access those themes in their music, but on the flip side there are members – like their leader SpaceGhostPurrp for instance – who rap over tracks that sound distinctly 90’s relatively infrequently.  Having said that, some of Raider Klan artists do make great music in that vein and the influence of 90’s music and 90’s rap artists is certainly apparent throughout the music of the collective.  No Fakin’ Tha Phonk is a collection of selected pieces of classic Raider Klan 90’s phonk.  In contrast to KLVN MENTALITY, which highlighted the group’s collaborative efforts and diversity, No Fakin’ Tha Phonk focuses on many of the Klan’s best solo acts, in some cases the usual suspects crossover to show up again as Amber London and Ethelwulf for instance are most heralded for their guest spots and their 90’s themed tracks.  There’s also a good dose of artists here who didn’t show up on KM (or only showed up briefly), such as Key Nyata, Young Renegade, Yung Raw, Harvey G, Dough Dough, and Grandmilly.

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During my time covering the Raider Klan I’ve had a lot of people ask me “what’s so exceptional about them?,” or “why are you wasting time covering teenagers when there are great artists, more seasoned artists, putting out high quality projects in 2012?”  My initial response to those people is, well, I cover them too.  I have written reviews and lauded praise on the likes of Ka, Billy Woods, Illogic, El-P, Killer Mike, Jackie Chain, SL Jones and many others this year who have years in the game and release a refined high quality product.    Actually, the only Raider Klan related album that I’ve put up for “Best of a Quarter” honors was SpaceGhost’s Mysterious Phonk, hardly a lo-fi bedroom studio endeavor.

However, with Raider Klan my interest goes a little deeper than just the quality of their product.  Raider Klan represents a group of young people across the country who feel they fit outside of the general rap aesthetics of the mainstream, some of their music – though admittedly not all – attests to this.  I admit there is a lot to sift through with Raider Klan, there are a dozens of members, a t least a couple dozen of whom make music, dozens of mixtapes, thousands of tracks on youtube, lots of klvn, 2.7.5., & BRK handles to sift through on twitter to figure out who’s in, who’s out, who’s really in, and which rappers are the rappers one needs to pay the most attention.  The other aspect that won’t intrigue many of my normal readers is that the Raider Klan as a collective are, generally, fairly disinterested in lyricism for the sake of lyricism.  While it’s hard to speak on them collectively – since there are at least twenty five or thirty of them making music – most of them prize style over substance, and most of their substance strokes are broad and indefinite.  Their primary concern musically is the ultimate quest for the phonk, the ability to convey the appropriate musical vibe the marriage of the vocal performance and the beat.  In an era when so much rap is devoid of a strong relationship with it’s musical ancestry, the Raider Klan members are hyper conscious of their roots, and paying homage to those who came before them.  Where else in 20120 can you hear a Bone Thugs influenced rapper, alongside an Ice Cube influenced rapper, alongside a Boss influenced rapper, over a g-funk track fashioned by a midwest producer and have them all be open and honest about the rappers they’re channeling and who truly influences them.  What’s more impressive is that they manage to do this without sounding like a bunch of dinosaurs trying to revive their youth or a bunch of new jacks sharking an aesthetic without any sense of the history behind it.  For those with whom the 90’s shtick may wear a bit thin, especially those of us who lived through the 90’s first hand, they actually make some very good music that competes with their contemporaries quite well on a modern playing field.

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Eddy Baker and Sky Lexington Chilling with Chris Travis & Ethelwulf at the Video Shoot for “West $ide Dirty $outh Klash 1991”

Each Raider Klan member certainly brings his or her own flavor to the gumbo of music created by the Raider Klan collective as a whole, but there are definitely regional twists in the flavors of the music concocted by California BRK member Eddy Baker, and his primary collaborator and producer Sky Lexington (an emcee/producer in his own right, who distinct vibes for his solo music separate from the work he does with Baker) who relocated to Cali recently.  Amber London hails from Texas, so well outside of the California border, but Texas has always been strongly cross-influenced by California, and much of Amber’s music, which has at times an authentic g-funk vibe to it, recalls artists from the 90’s artists of the West Coast, Southwest, and of course Texas.  There are a few other members of Raider Klan who have cropped up out West of the Mississippi, from Seattle’s Key Nyata to The Pack’s Stunnaman, but Eddy, Sky, and Amber have been mainstays for some time and have earned the reputation as three of the most respected and talented artists in Raider Klan.

I caught up with Eddy Baker and Sky Lex to talk about the recent release of their mixtapes Edibles and NC-17, what it was like having the Klan come out to Cali, the new rift with ScHoolboy Q, the Black Panthers, the growth of the Raider Klan movement, break down some Raider Klan terminology, unusual influences from the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.  I separately interview Amber to talk about her influences, female rappers, how she uses youtube as a source of inspiration in her music and videos, and what it means to be the Original Goddess of Raider Klan.

[Editor’s note: Amber London was interviewed sometime in July, whereas Eddy Baker and Sky Lex were just interviewed on August 27th, so some of the variation in their responses reflect how quickly some things have changed or developed over the course of the last month, for instance on the Raider Klan album/mixtape]

To read more on the Raider Klan check out this article on them as well as Part 1: Memphis (Ethelwulf, Chris Travis, & Yung Raw) and Part 2: NYC (Grandmilly, Matt Stoops, Big Zeem)

“West $ide Dirty $outh Klash 1991” Eddy Baker featuring Ethelwulf (prod. by Sky Lex)

JB: What projects do you have coming up?

Amber London:

Right now I’m currently just working on a mixtape, it’s called Nature of the Phonk, everything is just kind of up in the air right now.  I’m just kind of going with the flow, but that’s pretty much what’s next to come out.  In terms of beats I pretty much work with any and everybody who sends me a beat if I like it, then I’ll put it on the tape.  I’m hoping to work with Purrp and Konflict OD and just a lot of random people.  DJ Two Stacks actually sent me a beat.

Sky Lexington:

I just released my solo project and it’s out right now and basically it was just a mash off all the stuff I did throughout the year, and something like four new tracks, and it’s all produced by me and there’s a couple tracks on there produced by Metro Zu too.  And that’s NC-17.

Eddy:

 Edibles is like my first mixtape, I guess it ain’t my first mixtape since I’ve been a part of the Klan, because I dropped a mixtape in like 2010 called The Bakery, it’s like my first mixtape in a minute really, it’s my second mixtape I guess, but I consider it my first. You feel me?

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SpaceGhostPurrp Performs Live at SOB’s with a couple dozen of his NYC homies

Although Raider Klan is often viewed as a kind of 90’s revivalist movement for southern artists, New York is an unofficial second outpost for the Raider Klan.  After all it was in New York, not Florida or Memphis, where SpaceGhostPurrp’s work with A$AP Rocky helped both of them gain national attention and grow both of their vibes.  It was also in New York where Matt Stoops was recently jumped by A$AP Twelvy – an incident that’s been talked about quite a bit on twitter on the internet, but really only a symbolic boiling point in tensions that have been mounting between the two camps for some time due to creative differences, petty slights, and some other incidents that have continued to push the two camps at odds with one another after their previously amicable relationship.  

Despite the fact that Grandmilly may technically be the only New York member who’s made a contribution to the Raider Klan catalog to date (at least in the form of a full album/mixtape that’s received some decent recognition online), few know that Matt Stoops is one of Purrp’s most trusted allies, a friend so close they refer to each other as cousins, and Stoops holds a kind of consigliere status next to Purrp in the Klan’s hierarchy.  Big Zeem plays a similar role in working with Grandmilly and is one of the Klan members who’s interested in turning Raider Klan fashion sense into a clothing line.  I caught up with Milly and Zeem a little over a month ago to talk about their debut, Bandanas & Black Magic and to get a sense of how they fit into the increasingly growing Raider Klan puzzle.  I also caught up with Matt Stoops to get his viewpoint on a few topics as one of few Raider Klan members who actually has a good read on where SpaceGhostPurrp’s head is at, at any given moment.  These are the voices of the New York chapter of the Raider Klan.

Link to Part 1: Memphis (Ethelwulf, Chris Travis, & Yung Raw) and Part 3: Southwest (Amber London, Chris Travis, Yung Raw)

JB: Matt, describe to people your role in Raider Klan.  You’re not a rapper so what’s your role with the Klan.

Matt Stoops:

Nah, I’m not a rapper so it’s like family.  SpaceGhost is like my cousin and I’ve known him probably the longest out of anybody in the Klan and we’re really close and we call each other cousins and shit.  We’re trying to start-up a skate team, but it hasn’t started off yet, we’re trying to get shit together right now and I skate and shit like that.  But other than that, when Purrp is gone and he has like business I try to go take care of that for him if he’s not in town.

JB: How did you meet SpaceGhost?

Matt Stoops:

I’ve known SpaceGhost for about five or six years.  I met him when I went down to Atlanta and shit, just on twitter pretty much and this was back when nobody knew who he was and my friend from Mississippi, who lived down in Atlanta at the time put me onto his music and we started talking on twitter and shit, and this was like before he moved in with Rocky and all that shit.  And we just became really cool and when he moved up to New York he stayed with me for a couple of days before he moved in with Rocky.  And we were always together in New York while he was living with Rocky.

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“Black Magic” Ethelwulf & Yung Raw

Since “Nostalgia Rap Surrealism – Decoding the RVIDXR KLVN” was published here on hardwoodblacktop.com I’ve been working to put together an interview with all of the Raider Klan members.  Initially, I planned to interview every member individually, combine their answers, and create one collective interview for the entire Raider Klan.  While this is still the intention of the project, having finished about eleven of the interviews, with plenty still to go, I realized that there’s way too much material to publish in one interview without severely editing the material down.  It also became clear to me, that with the fast moving pace of music today, and the Klan’s development, that by the time I got around to interview each member, the earliest interviews would be extremely dated.  The Memphis interviews were three of the first ones I did on the project so I thought it made sense to share them now.  And then share each of the group’s regionally, as I found throughout the process that like their music, the attitudes of the Raider Klan members is often strongly influenced by their locality, despite the group’s geographic diversity and diversity of musical influence.  It is important to note chronologically that the interview with Chris Travis was done over two months ago, Yung Raw was interviewed in the middle of June, and Ethelwulf was interviewed in mid-July.  If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out Chris Travis’s Codeine and Pizza, Yung Raw’s The Trill OG, and Ethelwulf’s The Wolf Gang’s Rodolphe as they undoubtedly represent three of the finest Raider Klan projects to date.

Link here to Part 2: NYC (Grandmilly, Matt Stoops, & Big Zeem) and Part 3: Southwest (Amber London, Eddy Baker, Sky Lex)

JB: What projects to you have coming up?

Ethelwulf:

Well actually, right now, I don’t really have anything coming up really.  Well, actually I might do this mixtape with this producer named DJ Manny Virgo.  I’ve been working with him so that’ll probably be the next thing popping up if I get to it real fast.  I don’t know what it’s going to be called yet.  I’m just waiting on him to send me the rest of the beats, it’s going to be a five track EP.  Once he sends me the rest of the beats I’ll be working on them and we can crank something out.

Chris Travis:

My next project is gonna be, I don’t know what I’m going to call it yet [editor’s note: it ended up being this past week’s Codeine and Pizza mixtape], but the theme is going to be underground horror.  I’m trying to find a producer.  I’d like one producer to producer the whole mixtape if possible.

Yung Raw:

My next project will probably drop in 2013.  I don’t know the exact time.  Most likely around Spring Break if not before Spring Break, because I want to make sure everything is down packed again, everything is perfect.  Because if your work is not perfect, if you got one bad song, and everybody can have one bad song, people can say you’re not a good rapper.  You want to make sure everything is at a good point, or your buzz can fall all the way down.  So I’m not going to rush it.  Also, you don’t want to give out too much free music, because you’ll be over and done with before it’s time to release your real album and people won’t have time to crave it and build that buzz.

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