Posts Tagged ‘Schoolboy Q’

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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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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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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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If Kendrick Lamar is the natural evolution of Ras Kass, then Schoolboy Q is somewhere between Kurupt, WC, and Crooked I on one end of the spectrum, and Micah 9 and Pharoahe Monch on the other, with the perversion of Akinyele thrown in for good measure.  On his new album Habits & Contradictions it’s often difficult to determine where Schoolboy sees himself on this continuum, and that may be a question for years to come.

Q made a splash last year with the release of his debut album Setbacks, which quickly endeared him to thousands of digital fans of both LA gangsta rap and innovative bohemian rap alike.  While it is always inspiring to hear a West coast artist continue to evolve the constraints of the defined notions of acceptable Gangsta rap, Q’s vocal stylings frequently outclass his lyrical machinations on Habits & Contradictions.  For what it is – sexually depraved, misogyny laced, violent, drug influenced, gang culture inspired storytelling – the level of vocal artistry may be unparalleled.  Over the course of 367 days, Schoolboy Q has twice managed to release the album hip hop heads dreamed Crooked I would release for ten years (and never did).  Of his two albums, Setbacks is the more accessible to the uninitiated and Habits & Contradictions is more likely to send someone into convulsions and fits of gangbang slang Tourette’s.

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