Posts Tagged ‘Hip-Hop’

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It’s been a busy week in rap and today I present eight tracks that I really like.

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BET AWARDS '14 - Backstage And Audience

When Busta Rhymes announced that his latest single for Extinction Level Event 2 – the sequel to his 1998 third studio album that’s best known his collaboration with Janet Jackson – will feature Eminem, a bittersweet feeling trickled around my heart. Sure, this is not the first time the two have knowingly worked with one another* and the two are still lyrical giants that tower people in awe. Yet it felt like a newsworthy note that felt on deaf ears for a collaboration that’s 15 years too late.

Back when I was a child, I along with much of the rap world saw Busta Rhymes and Eminem as two of the most colorful and dynamic rappers in the industry. Their charisma was off the charts and the way they intricately mixed humor and their bombastic personas with their technical prowess made them all-time greats at their craft. Ten-year-old Mac always wondered when the two would connect to make something epic and tear the very fabric of space and time. Now at 23 growing up to a genre that has changed drastically, the news of a Busta and Em collab felt contrived.

Listening to “Calm Down” left me empty on the number of levels; an unfulfilling trip back into nostalgia complete with a flip of House of Pain’s “Jump Around”. It is not a bad song per se, but it wasn’t entirely great either. Busta and Em show that they can tip-toe as effortlessly as anyone laying down bar-upon-bar of furious six-minute lyrical shadowboxing. Not to mention that the artwork is fucking phenomenal, but something was still very amiss. The two really did their best to turn back the clock and while that was nice and all, it lacked the authenticity it should have had.

There was a time where Busta at his most maniacal and visually creative tag-teaming with Slim Shady at his most ridiculous would have made for a superb moment at the height of their careers. The only other rapper I can think of that had highly exuberant qualities as a lyricist and entertainer at the time was Ludacris, whose triumphant triumvirate of albums put him on top of Atlanta’s hottest rappers in the mid-2000s. Another common ground I can find with that is throughout time detractors critiqued their flash over their substance, in particular to the latter. With Luda being a Southern rapper, the deck was stacked against him tenfold and his subsequent efforts in adapting to the times left him broken.

His counterparts found ways to combat them in numerous flashes of brilliance at their disposal. Busta began to simmer down a bit and connected with Dr. Dre with Aftermath, seemingly aligned with Eminem but still haven’t come in frequent contact with one another. Out came The Big Bang, a criminally underrated record in its own right and the last really great effort Busta has created in a full body of work. Eminem on the other end rode the success of the Slim Shady persona long enough to kill it off (somewhat) with his two outings The Eminem Show and Encore. From that point on, he focused on rapping and rapping well along with cleaning himself up personally.

While he attempted to make a resurgence of the bleach blonde psychopath on a few occasions (Relapse, The Marshall Mathers LP II), it was more nauseating than charming hearing a 40-year-old make dick jokes again. And that’s what I was looking at listening to Busta’s new single: sad, dejected, and confused with what has transpired. Things just aren’t the same with those two musically and no matter how great they can bend their syllables in 2014 as they could in 1998, I’ll always feel robbed of something special.

So instead of tearing the track apart, I’m just going to cherish it for what it is and that’s two favorites just rapping for a long time.

* I will say that “I’ll Hurt You” is as good as a collaboration we will get from the two and is much better than their most recent one. Crazy how that song was kept off of The Big Bang final cut. 

Paul Cantor wrote a strong piece on Busta Rhymes’ recent career steps and explained it better than I ever could here. He’ll always be great to me and he can do whatever he wants. I just wasn’t feeling it here. 

 

Hey guys, it’s yours truly resurfacing from my writing hiatus. It’s been a long while since I did a column/piece/blog of this nature as I’ve been hounded with school, work, or just being a lethargic, lazy fuck. In the meantime, I’m preparing to bring something a little unique combining three of my first loves: Hip-Hop, Pro Wrestling, and Basketball. Every once in a while, I will write a lengthy column with analogies that can be easily relatable to one another or whatever craziness I can think of. Today, I decided to look at two people that had all the potential in the world to be more of what they are.

As I went on to mow the lawn today with my iPod on shuffle, one track came on that put me in a good place and left me wanting more from the artist. That song was Blu’s “Just Another Day” and with the honest storytelling and lyricism, I remembered how it was one of the best songs I had ever heard from him. It brought me back to a time where I thought that he was going to be the next big thing in Hip-Hop. While his name still appears from time to time, he still kept himself in stagnation. He’s neither showing progressing or regressing, but is just there a purgatory wasting what could have been a major career for the enigmatic emcee.

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It’s no secret that I consider Blu one of if not my favorite artist currently. He’s one of those rare breed of rappers that will drop significant gems in subtle fashion akin to Mos Def and Evidence. Ever since hearing his critically acclaimed 2007 album Below The Heavens with Exile, I knew that he was something special and could easily be a force in the genre. That thought was further solidified with his spot on the 2009 XXL Freshmen Class, arguably the best/most prolific class the magazine has produced. While many of his fellow “classmates” found a lot of success into the mainstream realm of Hip-Hop, Blu kept himself in the background.

He would release a number of mixtapes and independent LPs over the span of three years that showcased his talents and experimented on different styles and sounds. While the input may be valiant in nature, the output has been nothing short of a disappointment. Even with so many projects, songs, and even a guest-feature spot on The Roots’ How I Got Over LP, Johnson Barnes really hasn’t gotten over at all outside the blogosphere. When I look at the career of Blu and number of routes (of lack thereof) that’s been taken, I quickly liken this to the rise and eventual fall of one Shelton Benjamin.

The parallels between Benjamin and Blu are pretty easy to pinpoint. These are two, young men that are very talented at what they do, and maybe too talented for their own good. Benjamin started out in the WWE debuting on Smackdown as a part of Team Angle with Charlie Haas (who later became known as The World’s Greatest Tag Team). After having a successful run with Haas, the team split during the WWE Draft in 2004 and that’s when Benjamin began to shine. Immediately, he was pushed into a major singles run going over Triple H in his first match on RAW and defeated him on two more occasions. It was clear that the promotion was looking to build Benjamin up to be a future star in the brand and the crowd soon followed that.

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With his athleticism, amateur wrestling background, and in-ring acumen, Shelton captured the attention of many, which included having a match of the year-candidate with Shawn Michaels. He would have his first singles title in the Intercontinental Championship in October 2004 and participated in the first Money In The Bank Ladder Match at WrestleMania 21 in where he amazed the crowd with some of the most memorable spots in Ladder Match history. With his momentum riding high and a core fanbase that wanted to see him succeed, it looks as the stars are all aligning for him to be in the World Title picture right? Well, it didn’t happen.

For some unknown reason, creative stopped pushing Benjamin. He ended up dropping the IC Title to Carlito in late June and turned him heel with a storyline involving his “momma”, nearly turning him into a comedy act. It looks as it was working however, as he feuded with and won the IC Title from Ric Flair and returning in the 2nd MITB Ladder Match at WrestleMania 22. After losing the title again, he was paired up with Haas once more, but since has been stuck in the push-pull midcard purgatory. He moved from brand to brand, winning the US Title on Smackdown but was never able to recreate the momentum he once had in 2004.

Now you readers are sitting here thinking, “Why the hell would Chris compare the career of a rapper to that of a professional wrestler?” It’s really simple as the many common pros they had, the cons weigh just as much. For much of the reasons on why Shelton Benjamin has never managed to become a bigger star than he was in the WWE, he never showed any signs of getting better. Sure he was great in the ring, but he lacked on the talking skills. That became evident during the “Momma” storyline and often having Jonathan Coachman as his mouthpiece. It also didn’t work wonders that Benjamin only tried whenever he was receiving a push and was lazy when he got in the doghouse.

With Blu, his sound quality in projects and concert performances have always came in question. Fans of his music would eagerly await a new tape from Azulito only to have the exact same complains as his previous effort. “Why is the quality sound like it was recorded in a crackhouse basement?” or something along the lines of that. He also have been known for having unenthusiastic live performances, often slurring or forgetting his lyrics in songs along with the sound being either too low or too high. Even a fan had to confront him on his actions.

Now I may not be the most proficient musician around, but I do know as a writer that there has to be a certain level of respect to your craft. Actions such as not adding in crowd participation and energy into the live shows and leaving room to improve on your artistry but not acting on it is a sign not taking the work seriously. But many say that’s how he rolls and actually enjoy staying in the background.

There are a number of entertainers that are the exact same way. Another easy rapper I could compare this to is Charles Hamilton, but that’s for another time and completely different discussion. All it begs for me to wonder is what if these two tried a little harder in improving their skills and capitalizing on major opportunities.

Random Axe Album Cover (2011)

2011 has been a year of indifference and variety, as Hip-Hop has expanded (or what many would believe, degraded) their sound over of the years with new concepts and creativity. Still, there are those that would rather stick to the traditional ways of the genre based on lyricism and the boom-bap head nodders. No matter which style is preferred, many should know that quality is ever present no matter what.

In comes Random Axe: The collaborative efforts of Detroit’s Black Milk and Guilty Simpson, and Brownsville resident MC, Sean Price. The trio made some rounds together in the 2008 Ode To The Ghetto track “Run” and later “Monster Babies”, furthering the thought of a full-length album with the three. Backed with the release from Duck Down Records and the single “The Hex”, the dream finally came to full fruition after 3 years.

Produced entirely by Black Milk, he continues to reinvent himself with some of his best work since Tronic or The Preface. An incredible highlight is the Roc Marciano-assisted “Chewbacca”, with Price pulling no punches with how the Hip-Hop game is going now with “Niggas’ rap albums sound like love letters” , over a complex and exuberant synths. The features on here consisted mostly of the Detroit Underground (Melanie Rutherford, Fat Ray, Fatt Father, Trick Trick, and Danny Brown) and one Boot Camp Clik representative in Heltah Skeltah’s Rock on “Another One”. Guilty and P complemented their styles well here, creating a solid one-two punch to cover their flaws as versatile wordsmiths. Black Milk also gets involved with the bars on a few tracks despite handling the production for many of the tracks and the former two also receive two solo tracks on their own (“Never Back Down” and “Karate Kid” respectively).

This is as good as a Hip-Hop album anyone could ask for this year, though it feels that there is something missing. Clocking a little over 40 minutes, this album was straight to the point and less is more worked for the better, as it will have their fans begging for more in the long run.

Overall: 8/10

Highlight Tracks:

  • “Chewbacca”
  • “Everybody Nobody Somebody”
  • “Jahphy Joe”
  • “Monster Babies”