Let That Mac Rip: July Music Reviews

Posted: July 28, 2014 in Blog, Dyscyplynary Action, Music Review
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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Common – Nobody’s Smiling

Last week, Common performed his album release concert from the Gramercy Theatre in Manhattan. Streamed free online in conjunction of Yahoo and LiveNation’s one-year concert series, the 20+ year Chicago veteran showed no signs of slowing down. He breathlessly and effortlessly bounced from his latest material of Nobody’s Smiling to the soulful embrace of his Be and Like Water For Chocolate gems. The crowd moved and dance to his medleys, pulling out verses from classic tracks such as “Testify”, “Thelonius”, and “I Used To Love H.E.R.”. It was the liveliest that Common has looked in quite some time, still hungry and looking to offer something in the form of a new vision.

Common can be looked in many aspects the same way as Busta Rhymes is now: a trailblazer in his own right that took risks, went ahead of his time, and still managed to keep himself relevant and moving. Keen to the violence and turmoil that plagues his city, he makes it a central theme for his tenth studio album, topped with special album covers with the faces of the current Chicago rap scene. Lil Bibby, King Louie, Lil Herb, and Dreezy all make appearances through the artwork, symbolizing the constant plight that befalls the area. With Nobody’s Smiling, Common and No I.D. reconnect to paint a more vivid picture.

For the better part of the decade, you can say Common was chasing for the success of his 2005 breakout album. Finding Forever literally followed the same blueprint as its predecessor, becoming a watered-down clone. Universal Mind Control became a drastic change in the vein of Electric Circus and probably won’t be appreciated until five years down the road and The Dreamer, The Believer focused too much of reclaiming his old-school roots. Nobody’s Smiling comes out as his most reflective project to date, no longer harboring too much of the past and instead making his present stronger from those moments.

It’s here that Common pulls certain skeletons out of his closet on the closing standard track “Rewind That”, highlighting his relationship with producers No I.D. and J Dilla in heart-tugging fashion. He laments on how he could have been more direct with Dion (No I.D.) in his youth and how his pairing with Dilla made for one of his brightest moments on the album. The dwelling made light of his life and his surroundings, spreading across his city’s violent summers and the possibility of an optimistic tomorrow.

Tomorrow as in the torch to the future, where much of it is represented in the form of Common’s guest features. Chicago’s youth movement of Drill lieutenants Lil Herb and Dreezy gets shine while Compton’s Vince Staples have show-stealing verses on “Kingdom” and “Out On Bond” respectively. Jhene Aiko and Big Sean are quiet as kept and don’t wear out their welcome, and we get a rare Malik Yusef appearance. All were pieces to help complement and make Common sound as fresh as he’s ever been.

Another attribute to that is No I.D. sonic display, some of the best he’s ever done in quite some time and completely obliterates his previous efforts on The Dreamer. The gathering choir of “Kingdom” evoked much of Black Milk’s most recent work right down to the drums: dark, yet stunningly beautiful and enlightening. Common complements it with a story of vengeance and faith, a tale known all too well on the grisly Southside streets (My whole life I had to worry about eating/I ain’t had time to think about what I believe in).

***

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iLoveMakonnen – I Love Makonnen EP/Drink More Water 4

Rap in Atlanta, Georgia has always been labeled with the “weird” tag. From the early onset of OutKast coining the term “ATLien”, Fabo seeing spaceships in Bankhead, and Future proclaiming to be an astronaut, the city’s earned a penchant for delivering anything but the norm. At this moment the city has been at its weirdest yet, with many of the new artists embracing delicate sonics while being verbally exuberant. Enter Makonnen: a singer/rapper/musician that seemingly exploded out of nowhere with his videos for “Club Going Up On A Tuesday” and “I Don’t Sell Molly Anymore”. Upon the naked eye, his bass-heavy croons would think he’s not as serious as one suggest, but that would be the dumbass thing to do.

If anything, Makonnen’s two EPs – I LOVE MAKONNEN and Drink More Water 4 – displays some of the most creative music out this year. In the advent where traditions and rap glass ceilings have been shattered years ago, Makonnen follows much of the Based blueprint of releasing an adequate amount of music and videos that’s easy to digest along with providing introspection through the loss of friends, lovers, and drug-riddled melancholy. These projects also feature the most experimental (and potentially the best) production from Metro Boomin and the HPG unit of Spinz, DunDeal, and FKi, glittering with intergalactic instrumentals that lean from Electronic bounce (Maneuvering”) to Orchestra (“Too Much”). A friend went on to call this kid Trap Beethoven and if he keeps it up he really could be.

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Shlohmo & Jeremih – No More EP

In 2012, Jeremih resurfaced back into the ears and hearts with his fantastic Late Nights With Jeremih mixtape, making some of the loosest R&B in a year where R&B was at its high-point (see channel.ORANGE, Kaleidoscope Dream, Beach Hou$e, Museum, and Pineapple Now-Laters).  Since then he’s been prepping for his Thumpy Johnson LP, which has been hampered with mishandling (thanks Def Jam) and management (thanks Diddy).  While his latest single “Don’t Tell ‘Em” hits the sweet spot and gets him regular radio play, it’s his darker and more seductive work that brings out his best. Pairing up with eclectic left-field producers such as Cashmere Cat and LA’s Shlohmo has done him major favors in acquiring the festival crowd,  and his latest EP with the latter shows how versatile he can be when he’s put to use.

Shlohmo – Bo Peep (Do U Right) ft. Jeremih (Music Video) from GreenWeedzIsBack on Vimeo.

It makes me wonder what the hell is his label doing handcuffing him for a good chunk of three years when he’s making music as great as this. “Bo Peep (Do U Right)” tickles the spine as any late night escapade on a weekend would do and “Dope” is where Jeremih at his most restraint as the song builds and builds to a climax that doesn’t come, but you ache for more. It’s lap dance burners that spark with each click and ricocheting reverb from Shlohmo’s production:  slowing down, going deep and submerging into a pit of layered fantasies that will take a while to come out of. The extended remix of “Fuck You All The Time” is more powerful and raunchy than the original with an additional verse from Jeremih that coos and widens the most prudent of legs.  Chance The Rapper makes a lone appearance on the aptly-titled closing track, “The End” and while great, it is one of the few blemishes as it completely throws the song off course. It simply wasn’t needed for something as sensual as this as Jeremih was in full control. His latest mixtape Not On My Album is slated to drop next month and if its anything like his previous efforts, we’re in for another great year.

***

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Fly Union – Small Victories

Columbus, Ohio’s Fly Union returns with their proper follow-up to their 2011 breakout mixtape TGTC (The Greater Than Club). It’s a project that I have personally been anticipating for a while after a series of great loosies and strong single outings from Jerreau, who continues to stand out of one of the most engaging lyricists of today. He’s a comfortable as he’s ever been, dropping gems of a smooth mack on “Feel At Home” (She said I turn an ex (X) into a why?(Y)/I said, ‘you can’t kill what has already died’). He’s at his best talking about the exploits of relationships and being calm in the thick of it, learning from his previous experiences that resonate with many. Though the tape doesn’t pack as many punches as the predecessor, it holds up for its vibrant production.

With mixing engineered by TDE’s MixedbyAli, there are footprints of that trademark sound throughout the tape. “Dolla Bills” glimmers with a Doppler Effect of intoxicating synths, and “When It’s Good” splits into a two-part highlight where Jerreau continues to be crafty with the wordplay. The features are brief here though BJ The Chicago Kid makes another grand appearance on “Don’t Count Me Out”, which only makes me crave another great album like Pineapple Now-Laters. Seriously, a feature from him makes a song that much better and it stands out amongst the rest here.

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