Random Record Review: Billy Woods “Aethiopes”

There is this unspoken agreement among both fans and artists of hip-hop culture. That rap is at its core a form of orated poetry. Not really meant to be read but mainly heard. To be expressed and appreciated in the context of a song or a beat. While we have accepted this as the norm there has always been an exception to the rule. Especially when the infux of spoken word poets got into rap. A focus was being placed on not just the patterns and styles. There was more of an emphasis placed on word choices and vocabulary as well. Especially in the late 80s & all throughout the 90s.

Groups like Company Flow, Jugganots, Blackstar, and countless other underground acts. They all played their role in pushing lyrics to the forefront. I would even go as far as saying that this project while as a standalone is an important body of work, still pays homage to that era of rap. With cameos by El-P & Breeze Brewin, it’s fair to acknowledge Billy’s head nod to the era. A head nod that some would say is long overdue. So many of the artists involved in what some have dubbed “Renaissance” have yet to give the respect that is duly deserved to ones that came before, but I digress.

Since about 2018 there has been an uptick in rap that pays homage to this “Golden Era.” Whatever that means. If I’m being honest I hate that title. This idea there is this certain era when rap was at its best. I don’t think that really exists. I think as is the case with most art forms, there is an evolution. A cyclical process that allows for progress in subcultures as young as hip-hop. Styles are revisited and the culture basically moves forward. Continuing to show an eloquence in places not known for it. Rappers like Billy Woods give us more of a reflective mood to their story telling. Words aren’t just used to as tools to speak on crime cleverly anymore. Words writen like poetry can be spoken as such to a beat. Billy has this way of writing. His words would be just as poignant if read with no beat as they are with one. I don’t think the beat is really needed, but is a welcome texture added to the picture painted by the veteran emcee.

The black experience is so complex and subtly nuanced. Artists like Billy Woods are necessary reminders of the intelligent observers here to speak for those voices drowned out by the loud boastful raps we are too accustomed to. His project is “dense,” as Professor Skye described in his own review of the project. Laden with historical references, and samples from Kongi’s Harvest. The cohesive project places you in the landscapes created by Billy & Preservation.

There are parallels between Jazz & Hiphop. Billy & Preservation continue the tradition perfectly while also getting personal with descriptions of his youth. I love lyrics that are personal without being necessarily obvious about it, lyrics that make a statement without being obvious that either. Let’s call it intelligent discretion. Often in rap discretion is necessary because the rapper is usually referencing a crime or something that requires discretion when speaking on it. I think Billy in his way uses a similar discretion to both “protect the innocent” as they say, and to leave an aire of relatability to the stories.

His lyrics are more poetry than bars, more thesis than essay. There is a maturity to his subject matter and I think that’s great for the evolution of this culture. The hip-hop audience is growing, both in age and sophistication. For those of us who see things differently and think more deeply we have places we can go. Worlds we can explore thanks to intelligent writers like Billy Woods.

Random Record Review: Armand Hammer “Shrines”

Usually these reviews are done in a pretty timely manner. I don’t usually sit with the project for too, but this project is different. The bars are too deep to just give a quick review off of the intial listen. Deep music requires more time to absorb the work. It seems like this type of Hip Hop has been coming back in style. Well it’s hasn’t really gone anywhere but for sure mainstream is taking notice more so than ever. That’s a definite good thing.

Ok, so in order for me to really get you to understand where I’m coming from, I have to start with Vordul Mega (of Cannibal Ox). I’m not sure if you’re familiar with music from that era, but if you’re you should dig a little. What you’ll find is some of hip hop’s best, coming of age and really making their mark. Def Jux was a prominent underground label at the time, but there were most definitely other labels of note doing their thing. I don’t want to get to deep into that because I’m trying not to wander off subject though.

So anyway, Vordul Mega was coming out with solo projects pretty regularly and there was this guy who was featured on a few songs. If I remember correctly he was heavy on Megagraphitti, but he went by billy woods. His style was almost spoken word. Like, you could read it on paper and it would be just as well executed without the beat. So I started to delve into his catalog. I usually do that when I come across music that stands out to. He also did something I really appreciated. Like MF DOOM, he made it a point to conceal his face. I don’t know how others view it, but to me it speaks to the fallacy of ones image. Instead having no face and no definable image allows the music to make ones presence known. Don’t get it twisted though, he is definitely not just another faceless emcee.

When I came across Armand Hammer, I had an idea what to expect, but what I didn’t expect however was Elucid. His beats and delivery were a great compliment to a style I was already familiar with. I’ve always been a huge fan of lyrics that transcend the perspective of street life and hustling. I like that shit don’t get me wrong, but the “urban” experience is so much more than that. It’s refreshing to hear crews when they articulate sociopolitical issues with such care. To speak on the black experience in America in a way that is personal to them. That shit is important. Unique perspectives help weave the tapestry that is Hip Hop culture into something tangible. Maybe even relatable.

I remember there was this quote about one of my favorite rock bands (Sonic Youth). The quote said they were “too art to be punk rock, to punk rock to be art.” Ironically I feel like quotes like these also fit groups like Armand Hammer. They represent a part of hip hop that expresses with intelligence what so many feel. I related to the tiger on the cover. We have been quarantined after all. A primal energy kept under close watch in a tenement building, yea i relate to that. The art work like their music is based on real life. Art eloquently imitating it.

Random Record Review: “Snubnose” by Grip

The Gram. That’s where I saw this picture with the parental advisory logo in the bottom left corner, but man fuck that logo. That gun. That snub nose was jarring against that red back ground. It demands your attention. I had heard of him before, but that picture got me. Complex named him best new artist of the month last year around may, but you know how that is. Its not that you didn’t notice him. It’s just you know, complex. It’s hard to take them seriously sometimes. Them and their Everyday Struggles to stay relevant… This cover though. It caught my attention. So much so that I had no choice but to listen. In short, the kid is nice. Just as jarring as the cover. The album is raw, but nice. If that makes sense.

Real is rare and to feel it in the bars is even more so these days. Very Atlanta, but as diverse as Atlanta, his sound is not regional. It fits in the current climate. Polished and grimy. I need to do my research but I think he may be a young branch of The Dungeon Family. The Big Rube track kinda convinced me. It’s like Cool Breeze and Witch Doctor did trap. I know, I know… Who? It might sound wild, but that’s what I heard in the first 5 or so tracks. It works though. Glad to see flavors like these thriving in this climate.

Old heads usually have this opinion when times change and they can’t keep up. The “it was better in my day” attitude. The “Street knowledge… Nigganomics!…” is not a generational anomaly though. That whole I remember the old days, back when attitude we all know so well tries hard to prevail, but is not valid at all. Thing are just different, not better or worse.

It all changes, but it stays the same. I like the changes though. It creates anomalies like the vivid picture that’s painted behind that cover. Tracks like “Bishop Speaks… Matter” and “No Info” tell the familiar story almost in jest. I’m from a place where lives do not matter… echos eerily on a base heavy beat that reminds you exactly where you are. That familiar place you don’t wanna go. I guess I’m different cause sometimes I wanna go back. Grip‘s a great tour guide after all.

So I decided to go back and give his earlier projects a listen. Grip‘s got a solid catalog, but Snubnose is definitely the stand out project. Probably the longest actually. It’s put together well though. A thoughtful and thought provoking album that hits alot different than what you’re used to. I think no matter what you’ll be impressed. The kid’s got flavors. With a flow that will demand your attention like the first sight of that .38. Definitely someone that we will be keeping our eye on. He’s coming out hard (pause) and we like it.

Random Record Review: Show Me The Body “Dog Whistle”

Every once in a while you stumble accross something that is so pleastly jarring & different, yet slightly familiar that it makes you pay attention. Enters Show Me The Body with this sound… Very punk but very much their own gritty sound. Political but not. Angry but not. I know I know. So descriptive right? It’s hard to describe a group when you hear so many influences in their sound.

New York and that rep they have to just naturally provoke wild raw energy. Hardcore punk, experimental, and hardcore all have deep roots in NY. So when groups like Show Me The Body come along you pay attention. The energy, arrangement, and the writing. Ok sorry to nerd out but it makes for a good mix. Their earlier releases are good too but this project sounds solid. Grimey like parts of “Corpus I,” but more focused. Songs like “Now I Know” with morbid depictions of life at war. “I can see dead bodies, in the street” he says. It may seem like a cliche’ statement. I dunno. In certain genres, some of the subject matter isn’t that surprising, but this shit just hits you different. Sincere and authentic.

We’ve written about that in a couple articles. Sincerity in expression is important. I think this project is kinda timeless. I mean raw energy just doesn’t go out of style. We all relate to that raw energy. I definitely relate to this shit. A great project.

Random Record Review: Black Thought “Streams of Thought Vol. 1”

I remember my first time hearing Black Thought rap. I was… uhhh… Let’s say two sheets to the wind. Ha! More like out of my mind on something mind altering, but that’s a story for another day. Anyway I was at a party listening to The Roots 2nd studio album “Do You Want More?!!!??!”. When I hear Black Thought ask for a 5min break. I’m in another space and time at this point and it seemed appropriate I heard him ask this, as is the case with so many jazz recordings I’ve heard them mention this. To my surprise there was no 5 minute break. Instead they break right into what I soon after learned was a song called Essaywhuman?!!!??!. At the time and in a way still is to this day one of the coldest fusions of hiphop and jazz I had ever heard.

The lyrics and delivery was so unique and full of flavor, it was undeniably fresh. Now keep in mind this was during what alot of people proclaim as the golden era of hiphop. So there was no shortage of great lyrics and delivery, but the way Tariq Trotter stepped to the mic… I had never heard it like that before and I have yet to hear another person flow like him. To me that is one of the most important aspects to music. Timeless originality. It’s what gives so many artists that staying power that keeps them relevant no matter the era.

Around the time The Roots dropped Illadelph Halflife I saw that lyrical prowess live and direct. I don’t know if it was the phenomenal opening set by Rubberoom, or just The Roots themselves. Either way I was hooked. Much like that concert Black Thoughts first solo project has this way of just pulling you into that same sophisticated street style cat persona that he’s made his signature style. By the slang and presentation you hear it in his voice. He’s no stranger to the ruff side of the tracks. Though through is vocab and play on words you can see that he’s surpassed that mind frame and evolved into something different, some might say superior to your average street cat.

Most people only associate The Roots, and Mr. Trotter as the house band for the THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON. I suggest highly you dig a little deeper. There is so much more to them. What could possibly be one of the most important hiphop groups of all time, and one of the best lyricists of our generation. Mr. Trotter and 9th Wonder partner up to solidify their place in the culture with this project. With effortless mastery, stories are told and scenes are set in a style only these 2 can create.

Random Record Review: Jaden Smith – “Syre”

This era we’re in. A culmination of the past manifesting itself into this future digital age. The times and the globalization of culture gives creatives a freedom that is still new. We are all still getting a grasp of the real potential of what is literally at our fingertips. There is an assumption that the new generation has it easy. That with the conveniences of today that “there is no way they struggle like we did.” That misconception downplays the influence youth culture will always have in music.

Jaden Smith is part of that youth whose struggle to find their own identity is largely misunderstood. I, like many other critics under estimated him in particular and the youth in general. Syre is a well put together, honest, and surprisingly mature sonically. A kind of coming of age project. A man coming into his own, and doing it with flavor. Some are very critical of an artist when things seem handed to them. Jaden Smith could have taken a the safe road and done what was expected of him. He chose a more adventurous route, and that has allowed him this freedom some don’t have. The young man he’s become commands respect. The best part of this project is that it’s honest. A product of these times the older generation gets baffled by. He, “an icon living” is part of the tastemakers setting the stage for more individuality. Flavors all their own.

Jaden is doing his thing on this album. NOBODY sounds like him right now and it works. The individual is celebrated these days, and I hope this album causes more people to celebrate their uniqueness. The youth needs it. The world needs it. Syre is a straight play all the way through. Vibe, chill, turn up… Just jam this album. You won’t regret it.

Random Record Review: The Alchemist “Rapper’s Best Friend 4”


The Alchemist

In hip-hop there is this emphasis on the lyricist or rapper. This status quo that the rapper is the focal point of hip-hop music. I mean some think it’s rightfully so since the music form’s emphasis is on lyrics and vocal delivery. There’s just one thing though. Who is responsible for the music they rap over? I mean these guys aren’t just lacing those buttery vocals on open air. There are people responsible for providing that sound that sets the tone for your favorite rapper to speak on. In a time when content with substance and raw lyrics is a rare occurrence you’d think the producer would be given more credit. Especially since like the dj in the early days the producer actually creates the sound a rapper may be know for. IE guys like Metro Boomin. It’s unfortunate that unless you’re a super producer you don’t necessarily get full credit for the beats made.

Then you have guys like The Alchemist. Nestled right there in between the super producer status, and a slept on genius creating classics on the low. Whether you have realized it or not one of your favorite rappers has probably laced an Alchemist beat. Rick Ross, Schoolboy Q, Action Bronson, and Mobb Deep to name a few have all had the benefit of working with The Alchemist.

Don’t get me wrong I love lyrics, but I also love a good beat as well. Sometimes its nice to just soak up the music sonically minus the lyrics. To really absorb what the producer has contributed to a song. This project is to me a play through. It’s got that mix. The familiar beats from songs you’ve heard before to those hidden gems that you may have overlooked. Alchemist is to alot of people a very important contributor to the culture. I think it’s projects like this that make you really appreciate his undeniable influence. A man of few words The Alchemist’s beats speak for themselves. The first 3 volumes of this series jam. This 4th contribution is equally listenable. If you’re a fan of Alchemist you should definitely cop this one, and if you’re not that familiar with him this is a great intro. Another no doubt solid contribution by Alc. Makes me look forward to hearing what he’s contributed to that up and coming Kendrick Lamar album.

Random Record Review: Kid Cudi – Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’

Kid Cudi

     Ok so Cudi…  To say I’m a fan isn’t enough but I’ll leave it at that…  What I will say is he’s been consistently breaking the mold of the genre for almost a decade.  Day N Night dropped in ’08 & Cudi has been dropping honest heart felt classics ever since.  Not all of the releases were welcomed with open arms, but that’s what comes with growing as an artist.  

     Experimenting & trying new things is not something alot of loyal fans are receptive to.  Especially when you go so far left as he did with Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven & Satellite Flight.  Both of which left alot of fans torn between the Cudi we’ve grown to love & the Cudi he had been growing into.  I guess it comes with the territory though.  All the greats were often criticized when they tried to expand & experiment sonically.  Don’t get me wrong.  I liked both Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven & Satellite Flight, but I did prefer Satellite Flight more.  I respected & praised him for having the balls to make, much less release a pretty solid alternative rock album.  I just prefer the more refined sound he is known for.  Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven seemed almost too raw, maybe even rushed.  None the less he has been one of my favorite artists this long, and it’s not necessarily for just the sound of his music.

     Kid Cudi has been in the spotlight somewhat & it’s not for his music per say, but the reason he is in the spot light is one of the reasons I’m a fan.  He is not perfect, he is human.  A person that has ups & downs.  We are not infallible, but we still endure.  I think Kid Cudi and his music is a testament to that.  To me that’s powerful & comes through in the best way possible on Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’.  He’s back to the Cudi we’ve know & love, but still keeps to the tradition of evolving sonically.  Cameos by Pharrell WilliamsWillow Smith, and Andre 3000 compliment the diverse project.  Freshly released just like Cudi from rehab this project is hopeful & optimistic.  Emotional but focused on positive growth just like we all should be.  It’s been in my rotation since it’s release on 12/16/16.  It’s a project I’ll be absorbing for a while.  Smooth listenable in almost any setting, but most important it’s honest.  Cudi is good at letting that emotional honesty shine in his music.  This project is no different.  Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’ is a defenite recommended listen.  Don’t take my word for it.  Give it a listen.

Random Record Review: Isaiah Rashad “The Sun’s Tirade”

Let me think…  The first time I heard Isaiah Rashad was the Shot You Down video.  Yea the visuals were to me stunning.  Simple yet poetic, but what really captivated me was the realness and sincerity of the song.  The video was merely a perfect cinematic compliment to a solid ass song.  This began my obsession with the music of Isaiah Rashad.  For me his previous projects have had the content trifecta…  Dope beats, honest lyrics, & his butter delivery all culminate to put him in a pretty consistent place on my playlist.

Isaiah Rashad has this timeless vibe to his music.  Educated, unapologetic, and southern…  That combination doesn’t always  jive, but he mixes it effortlessly.  The Sun’s Tirade has proven to be just as timeless, and effortlessly cool as his previous projects.  It’s a refreshing break from the trap music norm we’re used to hearing these days.  His individuality and personality shines through in the lyrics & delivery.  Not to mention I’m a sucker for poetic and unique album titles.  Speaking on poetry, that is almost the way I would describe his lyrics.  Far from the straight forward repetitive norm of recent releases.  Which is a perfect fit with the rest of the T.D.E. roster. This diversity is definitely welcome in todays musical climate.

All in all Isaiah has defenitely found his lane.  Not necessarily made for radio, but not out of place amongst his peers either.  If you’re not a fan yet this project could easily turn you into one.  I was surprised that Smile  didn’t make the album, but dope features from T.D.E. alumni like Kendrick on Wats Wrong make this project dope.  Defenitely a solid project soulful & poetic.  Perfect to vibe to.

Random Record Review: Head Wound City “A New Wave of Violence”

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     The first time I heard these guys I heard the cover of “Just One Fix” by Ministry.  I thought it was an amazing tribute to a band I loved growing up.  Keep in mind Im usually not a fan of covers at all (with a few exceptions).  Then I started doing my homework on this group, and learned about projects some of the members are a part of, and then I was sold.  I mean the Yeah Yeah Yeahs & The Locusts to name a couple of groups.  Its quite the diverse background.  Which is why I was so anxious to hear this project. 
     I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about the state of music and how genres like hip hop & rock are growing stagnant.  Some will argue that this isn’t rock but some newly invented sub category.  My answer to that is c’mon with the bullshit, is a rose by any other name still a rose?  Well fuck yea its still a rose.  A pretty rocking rose at that.  well I can honestly say this project surprised me.  Hard hitting, agressive, and dynamic.  No song is the same and the instrumentation is gritty but precise.  In the vain of The Mars Volta or Melt Banana, but a more palatable sound as well as tangible lyrics (sorta….lol). 
     I’ve been very deep in hip hop as of lately and very jaded on the rock front, but this project managed to shake up my focus.  It really was a holy shit this is awesome kind of moment.  Songs like “Scraper” “Closed Casket” & “Born to Burn” stand out to me, but the entire project is solid.  In a word…  Powerful….  Defenitely worth a listen…