Posts Tagged ‘Mista Thug Isolation’

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 city,¬†Grief 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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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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