Friday, January 3, 2014

Start the Year Off With a Wonderful New Album (And a Little Year In Review)

Wow, where did this album come from? Where is the publicity? I was just randomly on accesshiphop and happened to see that Josh Martinez had a new album out. I'm a big fan; I've had a page dedicated to his discography on my since the 90s. I follow this shit. But there it was: not a preorder, not a mixCD advance, or a limited tour release. It's his latest album and it's been out.

It's called Blotto and it's the album we always knew he was capable of and been gasping for while he kept messing around with The Chicarones and other side projects. Forget Pissed Off Wild {and apparently Josh feels the same way, since the press for this album calls it his sixth album since his last solo album World Famous Sex Buffet five years ago). Not that the Chicarones weren't good, but it always felt slapdash. Not Blotto. Blotto sounds just like his greatest hits from his past albums. I mean, it's really fucking exciting. This is even better than World Famous Sex Buffet. I mean, his best albums have had songs this good before, but this is the first time the whole album's been this good. This is like "Under Abstract Art" - The Album. It's also the first album in a long time to bring me back to that time when Anticon was an exciting and amazing collective, and not just a lame indie label I can no longer pay attention to.

Every song is emotional, sincere, intelligent, creative... it's just really good writing. And yet the material isn't one-note at all. One song's about a failed relationship, another's about the devil, and another's a refreshing take on the usually un-engaging rapping-about-the-status-of-their-music-career song. Why is it refreshing? Because he actually makes you relate as opposed to just saying yourself, look, I really don't care about your petty drama with your record label or music journalists.

"My money's runnin' low; how low can it go? My confidence is tied up in the money that I owe. I can't go to the store; I told folks I'm on tour. If they see me they will know I'm just at home doing blotto."

Again, it's just really good writing. And delivery. Josh doesn't let two sentences come out without changing his cadence or adopting a new voice or style. He'll dance right on the edge of getting too sing-songy, and literally singing some of his hooks, but then pull it back with a perfectly enunciated, multi-rhyming fast rap flow. One song, "Man Down," is heavily reggae influenced, but it's all still unequivocally Josh.

And the production's just as good. It's rich and original - I'm not recognizing a single sample, but it's very full of instrumentation and very alive. But it never has that band feel. These are produced hip-hop tracks, not garage-bound jam sessions. Regular Josh beatsmith Stuey Kubrick [is that an alias for Josh himself, or is there a real Stuey?] is on hand for almost half the album, so the quality's expected. But more than half the album is handled by a guy named Sapient. This is the first I've really come across him, but looking online, apparently his resume is pretty deep. Well, based on this, I'm going to have to look into the rest of his music. Or maybe Josh just brings it out of him. But either way, every element on this album just works.

This album is feels so much like Josh's brain turned inside out, you could listen to the whole thing without realizing there are any guests. But actually, there's several. Sapient rhymes on one "Numb" (he's good; but definitely more impressive on the production end), and Josh's labelmate Evil Ebenezer appears on "Ashes." Finally, Ceschi appears to fulfill the cosmic, contractual obligation that every artsy indie hip-hop artist feature him on their album. He actually comes pretty tight though, helping to make "My Jacket" one of my favorite songs on an already killer album.

So, ordering this CD from most online stores gives you a free little pin and sticker with it. But I've noticed on Josh's bandcamp there's a whole scaling pay option, where you can get all kinds of extras, including a t-shirt, shot glass, poster, hoodie, beanie, and more stickers and buttons. None of it's actually extra music stuff, though - no 12" or bonus CD - so personally I'm fine with the simple, basic edition. Just the CD for the lowest price. But if you like swag, Josh is definitely providing.

I can't go for the cheap joke that this is the best album of the year when it's the first week of January, because this technically came out in November 2013. But I can damn near call this the album of the year taking all of 2013 into account. But to speak for a whole year, I've gotta think about that, so let's put it all into context and look back at 2013:


We saw some very underrated releases from Gurp City: Grand Killa Con and Rime Force Most Illin'. Most of you reading this are probably still sleeping on these with the rest of the world, and it's your loss. Earl Sweatshirt dropped Doris, and despite one or two skip-worthy tracks, was really good. I don't get all the "disappointment" talk around that one. Maybe kids expected something more pop music oriented? I don't know. It felt like exactly the album I was expecting to get to me.

What else?

We got the collaberation album I wasn't convinced would actually came out: Necro and Kool G Rap's Godfathers. I understand Necro's rapping ruined the proceedings for them - and I definitely get that - but it didn't ruin it for me. And while G Rap didn't write any greatest hits into his catalog, he didn't disappoint, and Necro's production was a great match for him. I'd really like to see Necro scrub out the embarrassingly bad lines out of his verses in future, I'd definitely be down for a follow-up. Also that Inspectah Deck and Esoteric EP was pretty good. Mad Child kept wildly jumping back and forth between being alternately ill and wack. Eminem is working is way to making good music. Nothing I'd want to own on vinyl yet like his classic 90s material, but he's definitely at least heading in the right direction. And the Banzai Fam EP finally dropped in October... look for a review of that coming soon. But if you already know, you know.

Meanwhile, the limited game has been on fire in 2013. We saw the arrival of a dope, new limited label: Heavy Jewelz. And somehow Good Felons put out some of their best releases after collapsing. Chopped Herring just doesn't stop putting out really impressive, lost releases... like 3-4 a month. It's insane. Phase & Rhythm, JVC Force and Masta Ace were the highlights for me, but there's been so many, I haven't even been able to get them all. And Dope Folks is right there breaking the finish line ribbon alongside the, rescuing Omniscence's lost material (prompting him to make a comeback and prove he's still got it), and of course Young Zee, which is for me the biggest release of the year. And I can't get specific yet, but the Part 2 has a surprise that's gonna blow your mind even more than the Part 1 did! CH and DF are both putting out so many amazing releases, I can't keep up, and I love it!

So overall, the signal to noise ratio of crap to good music in 2013 has been pretty high, and unfortunately probably caused even a lot of earnest listeners to miss out on most of the year's highlights. But hidden beneath all the pop music and internet fads there's been a compelling little undercurrent of good shit. And even the mainstream, big media corporate stuff seems like it's gotten a little catchier than it was the last couple of years. It was definitely another year we had to dig and shuck, but if you did the work it paid off. So I'm actually pretty happy with 2013 - I'm about to go give Blotto another spin as soon as I post this.

Now let's just hope 2014 doesn't fuck it up.

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