Posts Tagged ‘Lil Ugly Mane’

2012 was a really great year for rap producers, probably a better year for producers than rappers, which seems to have been the trend for the last few years.  It is notable that 2012’s list sees the inclusion of several producers who work through primarily sample based means, several who work primarily in the field of original composition, and several who are equally adept in both fields or use interpolation to recreate previous compositions.  This strikes me as notable as I cannot think of a year where there was quite so much balance between the various modes of production.  2012 was also a tough year to select just 10 producers for this honor, as admittedly Roc Marciano, Ka, Harry Fraud, Willie Green, Aesop Rock and others had some very noteworthy production in 2012, but didn’t make the final cut.  As with the rappers, this is in no particular order.

Key Nyata “Suicide Capital” produced by Blue Sky Black Death

Blue Sky Black Death

It’s kind of amazing that it feels like this collective is still “proving themselves” in the industry given the number of years and dope projects they have to their name.  In 2012, BSBD dropped the final two pieces in the trilogy of projects they released with Nacho Picasso over a very tight time frame.  They then quickly retooled and put out projects with the new group Skull & Bones as well as Deniro Farrar before the end of the year.  They’ve got a ton of new material in store for 2013 as well, but it will be interesting to see if they can continue to garner some more major label placements like they did on eXquire’s EP this year.  Perhaps it’s a pipe dream, but it would be amazing to hear BSBD do a full length project with a vocalist who could really float amid the ether of their production the way an Ethelwulf, Future, or Chief Keef could.  Future and Keef seem like a bit of a stretch, but an EP with Wulf seems like it could happen if the two sides came to the table.  Laptop A&Ring aside, there really weren’t many producers who were on BSBD’s level in 2012 so as always it will be interesting to see where they take their game in 2012.

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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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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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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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Historically, Rap crews generally tend to develop locally, but groups of like-minded artists coming together through the internet has been in practice for well over a decade now, as archaic forms of internet communication like AOL chatrooms and hip hop message boards gave emcees and producers a way to collaborate at a distance and form new duos, groups, and crews, sometimes without having ever met one another.  The dawn of Myspace only made this type of remote collaboration easier and more common, and developments like facebook, youtube, twitter, dropbox, tumblr, and soundcloud have made it commonplace.  Still, it is unusual to find a crew as large as SpaceGhostPurrp’s Raider Klan, with so much interconnection in their music, and so many remote outposts and crew members so dedicated to a similar purpose.  Furthermore the Raider Klan like one of their early influences NWA has shown an early ability to influence the development of similarly themed rap crews all over the map.

The Raider Klan’s inter-regional membership accentuates their most interesting sonic characteristics – their post-regional surrealist nostalgic phonk, made up of a concoction of mid-90’s Memphis underground, early 90’s diasporic G-funk, RZA’s early 90’s layering of film sound effects (in this case often video game samples from Mortal Kombat or the moans of female porn stars), and occasional hints of Miami Bass.  Listening to Raider Klan is like listening to rap in a bizarro alternate dimension where the dominant influences on the commercial rap scene were Screw tapes, Memphis underground tapes from artists like Three 6 Mafia, Frayser Click, Kingpin Skinny Pimp, double time midwest artists like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Crucial Conflict, early nineties West Coast NWA, D.O.C., Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Texas hardcore rap, hints of early 90’s 5%er influenced Afrocentricity, Mortal Kombat arcade games, codeine, and robitussin and they all arrived hermetically sealed in a time capsule in the basement of each member along with a bag of OG Kush and a SpaceGhostPurrp decoder ring.  While chronologically many of those things occured during roughly the same time period, Raider Klan is made up predominantly of 90’s babies, who either absorbed much of this era through the passion of their parents and older family members, or through thorough research of youtube archivists who have made so many things from the early and mid-nineties readily available for nostalgic 30/40 somethings, or intrigued youth.

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Mista Thug Isolation’s first track begins with the white noise and ringing of a bad bout of tenitus, and quickly developes into extraterrestrial feedback behind a ghoulish piano loop – something like an alien abduction inside a haunted mansion.  There’s no denying the overt homage paid to mid and early nineties Three 6 Mafia and Hypnotized Minds affiliates here, and given that Lil’ Ugly Mane is not the long-lost cousin of DJ Paul, fresh off a 17 year bid, it’s reasonable to qualify Mista Thug Isolation as “nostalgia rap.”  While most of the members of today’s southern rap scene can trace their ancestry to artists like Three 6, Eightball & MJG, and UGK, very few make music that is as sonically reminiscent of the many underground tapes from ’91-’97 Memphis (with hints of Texas not to be ignored).  There are important factors to consider before outright dismissing Mista Thug Isolation as an unintriguingly derivative niche throwback album.  The most important factors being is the fidelity to the technique and the originality of the artist’s craft, as well as the overall quality of the music itself.  While Lil’ Ugly Mane sounds like he could’ve fit in with the Hypnotized Minds posse, his delivery is not consistent with anyone in that camp, and he maintains diversity in his vocal techniques while exhibiting his own perverse sense of humor.  As a producer Lil Ugly Mane also known as Shawn Kemp – his beat making alter ego – cooks up cuts that could’ve starred on records for likes of Hypnotized Minds affiliates or even UGK or Ball & G, but the subtleties and juxtapositions across this lo-fi opus generally belie direct comparison.

“Radiation (Lung Pollution)” is perhaps the most eclectic track on the album, with a beat that moves seamlessly from a smooth and jazzy trunk rattler to pure chopped and screwed devilishness as Lil’ Ugly Mane and Supa Sortahuman exchange braggadocio and marijuana honorariums.  On “Slick Rick,” Shawn Kemp brings a combination of definitively 80’s soundscapes with a few classic 90’s southern hints, as Lil’ Ugly Mane displays his reverence for the forefather of hip hop misogyny with details of a couple of humorously self-indulgent sexual encounters.  Perhaps the album’s defining cut, “B*tch, I’m Lugubrious,” mixes a few chopped up somber keys, flutes, and some trunk rattling bass as Lil’ Ugly Mane weaves his morose sense of humor into a double-time flow with lines like “uzi aimin’ low, shoot a playa in the prostrate.”

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