Friday, September 23, 2016

Grand Killas From the Bay

(The march of new music continues on with a couple new releases by some of of the Bay Area's illest.  Youtube version is here.)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Have You Heard the Bankai Fam?

(In my continuing efforts to inject some new music to Werner's this Fall, I take a look at one of the most impressive new groups to hit the scene in a long time. Youtube version is here.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

On Tilt! The Return of One of My All-Time Favorite Producers!

This is definitely one of the few albums I'm really excited about in 2016, and I didn't even see it coming!  You know, how you'll be waiting two to three years for your favorite guy to release that LP he announced, and you're constantly re-checking the calendar for that release date?  Will, this is the opposite of that, because I had no idea this was a thing until it became available to order.  On Tilt is the latest project from Luke Sick, the man who has a new group every month.  He's always great, so I'm already on board.  But what makes this one so much more special, is that it's a reunion with his original Sacred Hoop partner Vrse Murphy!  Yeah, every track is produced by Vrse, who's one of my all time favorite producers.  He's back, baby!

So, why is this an On Tilt album rather than an official Sacred Hoop album?  Well, look at the two dudes drawn on the cover.  That's not Luke and Vrse, that's Luke and a guy named QM, who's another Bay Area rapper, and this is just as much his album as the other guys'.  I'm not too familiar with his past work, but he's blipped on my radar for having a couple online songs with Luke and co., and he was one of the guys on the Mutual Daps album.  But he's actually got a deep history, as part of the Rec League family, then known as Cumulus, and his history of making records actually goes back like 15-20 years.  So we're not talking about some new kid getting carried on anybody's shoulders.

And the other reason this isn't quite a Sacred Hoop track is I suspect the deal here is that Luke & QM are rhyming over lost, unused Vrse beats from past years or something.  I say that for two reasons.  One, because while the liner notes do credit all production to Vrse, they credit "post production" to Richie Cunning (also of Rec League) and QM.  So that would make sense, right?  Vrse produced the tracks, then vaulted them, then QM & Richie produced the new recordings with Luke and QM rapping over them?  That's my guess, anyway.

And I also think that may be the case because I recognize one of these beats from seventeen years ago.  One of the first songs on this album, "Detox With More Liquor," features the same instrumental as one of my favorite Sacred Hoop songs (although admittedly, I have many favorite Sacred Hoop songs), "N.O.H."  That stands for "Not Our House," and it's about getting raucous at a house party with reckless regard because it's not your place.  It's one of their early collaborations with Z-Man, and it was on their cassette-only release Last Days Of the Hump Hut from 1999.  Almost every song on that tape wound up being included on the more widely released album Sleepover in 2001, but not "N.O.H.," because that wound up going to a compilation called Cue's Hip-Hop Shop instead.  So now it's kind of a rare Sacred Hoop song that's not on any of their albums.

And it still is.  Because "Detox With More Liquor" is using the same track, but it's an all-new song with all new lyrics and entertaining vocal samples for a hook.  And QM kicks fun, nihilistic freestyle rhymes like you can always expect from the Gurp City crew, but with a bit of a throwback 90s feel, "I'm unforgettable like scarin' a nun by airin' a gun.  Cum, I get busy like I got errands to run.  Vrse craft the beat like Dirk Dastardly; the flow make 'em say 'uhh, I'm Master P.  Um, actually, you must be fast asleep.  Ya feeling down, then load every last track from me.  Ya see Vrse he pleads the fifth and speaks with the beats, while me and Luke drops the speech that they loop to the beats.  That's word to me, Chuck and the Trav, gettin' drunk in the Aves like a couple of savs.  I don't fuck with the tabs, so that's more for you.  I detox with malt liquor, hit the store for brew."  I think I still prefer "N.O.H.," because you can't really top Z's energy on that song.  But two songs over a killer beat?  Yeah, I'll take that.

And to be clear, that's the only beat I recognize.  If anything else has been recycled, I think it's all unreleased material, so it's all brand new to my ears, which is just as good.  And it sounds great.  "Dank and Drank" has that classic Hoop feel, but really all the production is killer.  Some is dark and ominous, some is hard, and some is playful.  "Can't Go Home" has a sick human beatbox loop, and "Quest On Tilt" is a classic DJ cut, with DJ Quest cutting up over a chunky piano sample.  The whole thing ends with a tough posse cut featuring all the regulars: Lightbulb, Z-Man, Eddie K, Brandon B and TOPR.  It's a little album.  It's thirteen songs, but several of those are instrumental skits, and even some of the proper songs still clock in at just around two minutes.  So it's a breezy listen you're gonna want to repeat as soon as you hit the end.

As you can see in the pic above, this is an orange cassette release, limited to 200 copies, with full color artwork.  You can cop it cheap direct from the label, Megakut Records here.  And, of course, it's also available online via their bandcamp.  But obviously the tape's, like, a thousand times cooler.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Wlid Retirement Album of Trenton's Shawn Lov

So, I'm trying to add a little more new music coverage to this blog.  You know, no plans to forgo all the stuff I usually cover or big sweeping changes, but this has always been about hip-hop of all eras, every decade, and over time I think the feel of it's veered off a little into being a strictly old school blog. There's always going to be non-stop old school and history here, but not at the total expense of what's going on now. Admittedly, Hip-Hop may not be in the best place right now, but if you're willing to dig, there's still good music to be found.  So, you know, last post we looked at the return of The Fearless Four's Peso, and the next couple will be new music, too.  So that's just a little heads up for what you can expect around here in the coming days.  And for right now, we have the latest and apparently final album by Shawn Lov, his 2016 retirement album, Escape From Never Never Land.

Now it's hard not to be a little skeptical about any rapper's announced retirement.  I'm sure we all remember when Too $hort made a huge deal about retiring and his Gettin' It being his final album, before going on to release about 13 more albums to date.  And Master P retired somewhere between albums #6 and 7, Mase retired then came back, and 50 Cent said he would retire if Kanye outsold him, but then Kanye did and he didn't.  And didn't Jay-Z retire at some point in the 2000s?  You know, we live in a world where Friday the 13th 4 is The Final Friday, and the most recent entry was part 10... not even counting the reboot.  But of course rappers do genuinely get out of the game (I think I'm just about ready to give up on Big Lady K's sophmore effort), and I don't see any particular reason to disbelieve Shawn.  He's left New Jersey now and has his own, non-music-related business.  I'm just saying, if you're a fan, there's always reason to hope.  Like, if they make a second Shady Corps album, I don't see Shawn telling those guys to fuck off, you know?

But certainly for now, if not forever, this is the Shawn Lov's last album, and he's definitely decided to go out big.  This album is packed with 25 songs, and yeah, one or two are on the short side, and one's more of a skit than a proper song ("1986," which is a recording of him rapping as a kid), but this is still a seriously dense collection of material.  And since these are essentially his last words, he's clearly determined to get everything there is left off of his chest.  So there's a lot of raw emotion on display, including bitterness and frustration to a degree I'm not sure I've heard another rapper lay out so bare, at least on a personal level.  Yeah, you'll hear it from artists like Dead Prez talking about socio-economic conditions and all, but not on such a bare exploration of his own ego, delving into his rap career and why he never blew up, etc.  He's not shy about suggesting that he resents not being where Eminem is now, for example.  It's almost like this album wasn't made for the public to hear... and maybe it wasn't. 

I mean, it's not 100% all about him as a rapper.  There's a posse cut and a couple other tracks that seem to primarily be just about flexing skills, plus a song for his daughter at the end.  There's variety here, and tons of the punchlines and wordplay he's known for.  But I'm just letting you know, you're going to have to be able to work up at least a little genuine interest in the life and times of Shawn Lov as a person to really get into this album.  Like a lot of artists might be writing about themselves emotionally, singing something along the lines of, "I loved my darling, though she didn't love me back."  But the message is universal, and the listener can relate in the sense that, hey, I also fell for someone who didn't feel the same way once.  I also left my heart in San Francisco or like the cars, the cars that go boom.  But in this case, it's very specifically about Shawn.  His first verse on his first song starts out with, "y'all love my joints 'Disco Queen' and 'Love Doctor." Them shits' before two thou; fuck'm I supposed to do now?"  There probably aren't a lot of people in the audience who also wrote songs called "Disco Queen" and "Love Doctor" in the 90s who this would apply to.  And plenty of other rappers have done the career overview thing in the past... like LL Cool J's "Funkadelic Relic" or K-Solo's "Can't Hold It Back."  But this is a like whole album.

That's not really a criticism, though.  I mean it'll probably turn some people off, but fortunately Shawn's an interesting character, so it's easy to get curious about his story: "I was rhymin' and stealin' in '99 when I was as skinny as Ally McBeal and since then I've only come close to capturin' how I was feelin' when I was out for the deal and my chance to shine was actually real."  Does it get self important, you ask?  It sure does: "I have to remind myself I'm fuckin' with children, and I've been draggin' bricks through the desert for so damn long I that forgot what I'm buildin'" (and by the way, all these quotes so far have still been from the first song... and remember, there's 25 of them!).  But that's actually part of what makes it so interesting; he's putting out there what anybody else would filter - what he's probably even been filtering all these years before he decided this was the end.  And it's not like he's been shy about saying what's on his mind on previous albums, but there are moments that feel like telling off your boss on the day you quit your job: "you might imagine why I want you out of my face; like I can't even tell you what a pork chop tastes like, so I don't give a shit what direction you pray towards.  I make knowledge born; you just stand up and say words; and I don't gotta listen."

To better understand where he's coming from with this album, it would probably help to know that Never Never Land is an mp3-only album.  And that's where the imagery of Peter Pan with a mic from this album cover comes from.  I think the general idea is that Never Never Land represents the Hip-Hop scene that doesn't want to grow up.  But it's probably worth at least going back to just the "Never Never Land" title track before digging into this album for a more complete picture.

If you've ever looked at his youtube channel, you've probably seen Shawn Lov's series on how to make beats with an SP-1200, so you can imagine how most if not all of these tracks were made, and they range from good to great.  Most of the tracks are credited to Raiden, with the slightly confusing liner notes putting it like this, "Beats by Raiden (Metal Gear Solid), produced by Raiden with Shawn Lov (Metal Gear Solid)."  I guess Raiden made the beats, but they worked together in recording and assembling the final versions of the songs?  A couple tracks are guest produced, too.  Shawn's new labelmate Melph produced one of the two big posse cuts, "Expect War" featuring Sol Zalez, Self and another labelmate named Psix.  It's got a nice groove, but overall I prefer the other posse cut, "Universal Rhyme Kickers," with The Cause, Kwytestorm, Raven, The Massive and Self again.  Speaking of Self, The Custodian of Records is the other guest producer, with three tracks on here.  In fact, one of his tracks, "Spirits of '93," is my favorite on the album.  Not many beats can make you bob your head and laugh at the same time.

There are a couple other guests on here, though across 25 songs, that still means it's mostly Shawn on his own for long stretches, which is appropriate for a retirement album.  A couple of these cats I've never even heard of: Aalon Boots, Fatboi Sharif, Knowledge, Zach Childs, Horizon... but everybody sounds good on here.  The biggest guest is Pace Won, who appears on two songs.  "Suicide" is okay, but he really steals the show on "#FOH," which might be one of his best verses since his classic Outsidaz days, but it's dead serious, not crazy battle lines.

Escape From Never Never Land is available on CD and not, I believe, digitally.  You have to cop it the old school way, which is definitely fitting for this album.  It's available direct from the label, Akkie Records, which I believe is situated in the Netherlands. This is a new label for Shawn, whose previous albums have all been on Nuffsaid Recordings; but of course it's also his final venture with them.  But I don't know, maybe if this sells well enough, they can convince him to come out of retirement.  I'm not fully convinced this man never wants to rap again.