There’s a middle ground between “starving artist” and being on the level Jay-Z, which I like to refer to as the “working artist class.” This group is deep into their artistic endeavors, but still maintain a 9-5 day job they happen to be quite successful at. While juggling both can be very rewarding, there are times when you have to choose between the two. The duo known as The Other Guys had such a decision recently, and opted to take some well-spent vacation time to craft an impressive project titled The Week Instrumental EP.
The name is inspired by the duo taking an entire week off from their respective jobs to focus on crate-digging and song-crafting. There’s a song for every day of the week, starting with “Monday,” one of two tracks to feature original vocal performances. Von Pea of Tanya Morgan starts the theme well by giving a cosign to the Other Guys lyrically over some smooth, down-tempo rhythms. This segues into the much more upbeat sounds of “Tuesday.” The triumphant horns and a savvy beat break in the middle, coupled with vocal samples of a elementary music class, gives you feeling of that the week has truly started. The sluggishness of Monday is now gone, and you’re ready to knock out some assignments.
Hump Day (“Wednesday”) has a street corner jazz feel, and is set off with the vocal sample of an irate digger chatising a family member for touching his record collection. His words offer a good reminder of the power of music and it’s influence on our lives.
The most significant music change comes on “Thursday Night,” a track that infuses elements of industrial rock and electronica . It’s a record that you could see being a musical backdrop for anyone from Nine Inch Nails to Lady Gaga. The vocal loops add a haunting feel that “Friday” builds on, but the latter holds a a more urgent rhythms that adds a danceable element.
“Saturday Night,” as warranted, holds the most sensual elemnts of all the songs. The low, but still noticeable tribal kicks around the main drumbeat (think Jade’s “Don’t Walk Away”), combined with the “ahh” vocal loop, gives the images passionate hookups and nightlife (what else are Saturday evenings good for?).
Of course, “Sunday Morning” is the time to atone for any sins made the night before. J. Pope’s lyrics (“…like manna from heaven…”), and the tone of the backing flute makes this sound like a sacred invocation. The spiritual content is heavy, but not pretentious.
And just like that, we’ve made it to another lazy “Sunday.” The Other Guys return the sound to jazz — in this case, it’s cocktail jazz for a quick closing. For just a week’s worth of work, The Week Instrumental is a very effective EP. Even with the big sound change on Thursday, all the sounds flow together. I’m not sure how much more vacation time these two have, but I’m looking forward to their next week off.
Toronto’s Rochelle Jordan hit my radar last year with her excellent tribute/remake of Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody.” For 2012, she’s returned with a full-length, cogent piece of work entitled Pressure. Jordan has a low-key, airy voice that’s perfect for the down-tempo production she’s supplied with. You’ll definitely hear a big Timbaland/Aaliyah influence on Pressure. There isn’t an abundance of traditional ballads, but the album does have a mellow feel. However, it possesses enough upbeat arrangements to function at home, in the car, or even in a club/lounge setting.
Check the stream below and if you like it, feel free to download and add to your playlists. For more information on Rochelle Jordan, follow her on Twitter or hit her official website.
MMG’s Self Made 2 makes its official debut on June 26, but you can stream the entire album here. The project features appearances from Nas, French Montana, T.I., Bun B, Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa and more.
Nothing is promised in this industry. Your previous accolades, no matter how exceptional, don’t guarantee any artist a place of security. Game experienced that firsthand when he began work in 2009 on The R.E.D. Album, a follow-up to his gold-selling 2008 album LAX. Even with a track record of multi-platinum and gold albums, Interscope doubted this project’s commercial viability and subjected it to 10 delays. After three long years, Game has finally delivered an album that while full of shortcomings, is entertaining enough to satisfy fans who’ve been waiting patiently for Game’s self-proclaimed “rededication to Hip-Hop.”
After a short Dr. Dre intro, R.E.D. opens with Cool & Dre’s dramatic production on “The City.” With a movie-like atmosphere set, Game assails the mic with proclamations of the West Coast’s rebirth and his own pedigree of plaque-certified albums. Kendrick Lamar is the show-stealer, supplying a detailed, spoken word-leaning chorus that leads into a thrilling a capella third verse. The heavy production continues with DJ Khalil on “Drug Test,” a song marked immediately by its West Coast melodies. The club chords are short and stabbing, resulting in Dre, Game and Snoop adjusting their verses accordingly. Although Nate Dogg is gone, Sly does a novel imitation on the chorus.
THE GAME X KENDRICK LAMAR “THE CITY”
Dark humor comes into play on “Martians vs. Goblins.” Game does a respectable Odd Future impersonation. As a serial name-dropper, Game has no issues throwing his peers into surreal bars (“Tie Lil B up to a full tank of propane/Swag/ Now watch him cook…”). Although the beat has the murky feel of the Odd Future variety, Tyler the Creator’s offbeat humor doesn’t go too left that it’s not enjoyable for the uninitiated listener (“Fall back like LeBron’s hairline…”).
Game’s first solo song don’t come until deep into the album. Again, DJ Khalil employs a big sound for “Ricky,” a treat for older Hip-Hop fans as it samples Stanley Clarke’s music from Boyz N the Hood. The jazz elements, Game’s vocal energy, and the movie quotes the punctuate his lyrics make it one of the more enjoyable and engaging songs on the LP.
As the R.E.D. Album progresses, it’s quite easy to forget your listening to a Game project. His identity is lost when he decides to imitate the cadence and flow of his guests, as he does with Jeezy and Big Boi on their featured tracks. While interesting at first, it wears thin quickly and pales against other collab tracks where Game refrains from the imitation flattery like ”Heavy Artillery” and “Good Girls Go Bad.”
The influence of Game’s major label can be felt in the LP’s second half, which is overrun with radio-friendly, commercial singles with singers Lloyd, Mario, Lu Breeze and Chris Brown. Here the sequencing becomes a glaring issue; having four consecutive songs with this style becomes redundant and totally takes you out of the album. Although Game tries to inject introspective content in the last two, the production style and R&B choruses gives you the same feeling as the first two offerings.
Thankfully, DJ Premier comes to the rescue with “Born in the Trap.” Primo’s sample incorporates a beautiful orchestral loop. Game is equally impressive riding the beat and even changes the normal boom bap format we expect by handling the chorus himself and saving Premier’s trademark scratches for the ending sequence. The scenic production continues via Pharrell on “Mama Knows,” arguably the album’s strongest cut. While it was touched on throughout the album, Game saves this track to go in-depth on his mother’s influence on his life. Nelly Furtado’s airy vocals work perfect on these rhythms and will remind you of Janet Jackson’s preferred singing style.
GAME X NELLY FURTADO “MAMA KNOWS”
While Game still has not completely fixed the tendency overstuff his albums with guest appearances at his own expense, The R.E.D. Album has much better production and more highlights than what was heard on 2008′s LAX. If he accepts the benefits of the “less is more” approach, Compton’s native son will have further improvement on his next album.
Crowns aren’t passed on gracefully in Hip-Hop. They’re snatched from the death grips of those desperately trying to hold onto past glory. It’s been a constant story in Hip-Hop’s history since its inception in the late 70s. Every 5-6 years, a new group of emcees, influenced but not beholden to the previous generation, emerge to “push out” and take over from their predecessors. But in the last few years, a new development has emerged. Veteran artists have not only remained, but in several cases have shown they can compete and best their younger counterparts in songwriting and chart performance. No clearer example of this exists than Kanye West and Jay-Z. Both, especially Jay-Z, have been assailed directly and subliminally by young lions seeking the mythical crown. Those challenges have resulted in Watch the Throne, an ambitious albeit flawed project that highlights the strengths and persistent career weaknesses of Jay-Z and Kanye West.
“No Church In the Wild” opens that album with a subtle message of morality being relative. Frank Ocean makes you question perspective immediately with a chorus of questions (“What’s a king to a god/ What’s a god to a non-believer…”). 88 Keys and Mike Dean’s production uses electric guitars and synths to create a simmering intensity that builds but never explodes. Jay reflects on his street past, championing his code as a means of survival. Kanye’s “scripture” is love of a woman and life lessons learned from their taboo sex acts (“…Love Is Cursed By Monogamy/ It’s something the pastor don’t preach”).
“Lift Off” ups the urgency with rolling orchestral arrangements. Beyonce lays the foundation for an epic track with her oft-repeated chorus promise to “take it to the moon” and “stars.” While the collaborative production of Kanye, Mike Dean, Q-Tip and Pharrell is daring, the emcees are still reserved in pushing the throne concept. West sounds more concerned here in mesmerizing the listener with the production’s epic elements than providing any lyrical gems; he shower sings and mumbles through most of his verses. Jay-Z shows better flashes of insight. He chastises the soulless music permeating much of mainstream Hip-Hop (“Shit is making my dick soft…”), and deftly references to Dale Earnhart’s death to allude to his own struggles with artistic vs. financial success (“When you Earnhart as me eventually you hit a wall”).
G.O.O.D. Music in-house producer Hit-Boy takes what’s essentially a Snap music melody loop and fleshes it out with heavy bass and a classic vocal sample courtesy of Mountain’s “Long Red.” Jay-Z navigates the beats with ease, alternating between faster short and moderately paced longer bars. It’s a floss track, meaning Jay is completely at home pulling facts from his extensive portfolio, and even giving a nod to Biggie’s “Mike” lyrics from “Victory” (“I’m liable to go Michael/ Take your pick/ Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, Game 6″). West’s verse, like many on this album, focuses on hedonistic pleasures. Here, it fits the theme. Hit-Boy’s operatic ending beat change, filled with static dissonance, is welcome and makes you somewhat disappointed it wasn’t used earlier or as a completely separate track.
“Gotta Have It” is a strong Neptunes contribution and one of the album’s more conventionally structured Hip-Hop songs. However, because it’s essentially another flossing track in the vein of previous track, the verses and length are kept short (a little over two minutes). The RZA-produced ”New Day” is the duo’s first track to overtly tackle a serious social issue. Both emcees do well with the concept of “open letters” to their unborn sons. It’s the only song devoid of most of the trademark cockiness and hubris prevalent in both emcees. Kanye speaks on some regrets at wifing former strippers, but remains firm on others like his Katrina criticism of George Bush. Jay focuses simply on being there, something he lacked in his own upbringing (“Promise to never him even if his mama tweakin’/ Cause my Dad left me and I promise never repeat him.”) RZA’s somber piano melodies and brass instruments accentuate the content. The only downside is the auto-tuning of the Nina Simone vocal sample, which lends a manufactured feel to the proceedings.
“Murder to Excellence” is another socially conscious track, this time addressed to the wider black community. The message is not preachy. Instead, both emcees paint a vivid picture of the senselessness of black on black crime. Kanye West provides one of the most telling lines of the album when comparing urban death to the Iraqi War death toll (“314 soldiers died in Iraq/ 509 died in Chicago”). Jay stresses the need for more African-Americans in places of power and takes personal responsibility as being one to help break open the doors (“We need a million more”). Jay takes this opportunity to throw a return shot at conspiracy theorists who call him an Illuminati agent, stating his spirituality is found in music (“They say my black card bear the mark of the Beast/ My religion is the beat…”). The children chanting and low bongos give the track the feel of street corner spoken word, no doubt a nod to the recent passing of legend Gil Scott Heron.
“MURDER TO EXCELLENCE”
The “stadium music” tracks that Kanye West has experimented with since Graduation have proven to be greenlights here for Jay-Z to lyrically attack. He does so easily even with the dub step elements on “”Who Gon Stop Me,” literally taking over the last few minutes of track with flow alone. On the closing “Why I Love You,” he adds content in continuing the lyrical evisceration of his former friends and detractors began on tracks like “So Appalled,” “What They Talkin’ About,” and “Thank You.” While Kanye has his own issues of late in that department with Consequence, he’s content to support Jay ala hypeman (“Took care of these nigga’s lawyer fees…Gotta separate from these fuckin’ fakes”). Some of Jay lines show his disappointment, but in the end he absolves himself of any blame in his public splits (“I tried to teach niggas how to be kings/ And all they ever wanted to be was soldiers/ So the love is gone/ Til blood is drawn/ So we no longer wear the same uniform…”). The chorus is akin to an 80s rock power ballad, but these elements don’t detract from the impact of Jay’s words.
The bonus tracks are dubious only for the fact they’re superior to several songs the made the official tracklist. The hidden “Illest Motherfucker Alive” had the best balance of stadium and traditional Hip-Hop sounds. The operatic vocals and other effects give the song an action movie feel. Despite so much going on from a production standpoint, it never gets overwhelming. Jay-Z give his most definitive statement on why he wears the crown. Building on his words from Blueprint 3, he compares his #1 albums to Bill Russell’s 11 NBA rings and cites Beyonce and Rihannna as proof of his dynasty building capabilities. The biggest error of this album is the omission of “Primetime.” No ID provides two elegant piano loops, one smashed with dissonance effects while a vocal loop chimes in the background. Kanye compares himself to a prime Muhammad Ali, and Jay-Z uses witty numerology to break down why he’s better than ever in his 40s (“At 42 be better than 24/ I carried the 4-5, mastered 48 laws/ Still wearing my 23′s they can’t fuck with the boy…”).
Have Kanye West and Jay-Z defended the throne from the young lions of Hip-Hop? Yes and no. Watch the Throne has flashes of brilliance lyrically and production-wise, showing why both have been two of the premier artists in Hip-Hop post-2000. The album is less diverse musically than Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but the streamlined feel gives it a more unified sound, a point that benefitted Jay-Z over the disjointed feel of Blueprint 3. What hurts this project is the evident focus on the production over deeper, cohesive exploration of the “watch the throne” concept. Instead, several tracks are drenched more in hedonism and celebratory materialism than any stimulating content. ”New Day” and “Murder to Excellence” show they are capable of much more work that can truly show the talent gap between them and their supposed throne challengers. Watch the Throne won’t silence all of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s unnamed rivals, but it’ll keep the majority of them at a distance…for now.
Since Tha Carter IV is on the back-burner until August, Lil Wayne is supplying his fans with a 12 track mixtape entitled Sorry 4 the Wait. The tape features Wayne freestyles over such tracks as ”Tupac Back,” “Marvin’s Room” and “Gucci Gucci.” Many will be happy to know that Wayne has decided to calm down the punchline technique greatly. Overall, the freestyle format helps this go by quickly and is ideal for a car ride. There’s nothing here to rival his Dedication run, but long-time Wayne fans should be satisfied. Tha Carter IV is now scheduled for August 29.
After taking a secondary role on this year’s Maybach Music Group compilation, Teedra Moses is taking center stage today with the release of her new mixtape Luxurious Undergrind. The New Orleans native’s talent has been well-known in the music industry for years following the release off her critically acclaimed debut, Complex Simplicity, in 2004. Since then, she’s been plagued by label issuesthat have delayed her sophomore project The Lioness. With Rick Ross being red-hot, Teedra has the best opportunity in some time to get her music out to a national audience.
Since this is a July 4 drop, Moses makes sure Luxurious Undergrind is filled with upbeat, cookout ready jams. Whether you prefer the newer, dance-based production of today (“Invitation”), the sample-based rhythms of yesteryear (“Another Luvr”), or even 80s R&B synth arrangements (“Falling 4 U”), there’s something here for everyone.
“It’s that trash that you’re doing that’s fucking up Hip-Hop…”
New Jersey-based DJ Absurd is fiercely proud of his Garden State stomping grounds. For his debut compilation (Flying Colors), he brings together a combination of veteran and new school underground emcees for a collection that’s focused on straight spitting for those with a predilection for East Coast boom-bap.
Although the majority of project is filled with verses focused on braggadocio, the EP format keeps it from becoming monotonous. The first two songs focus on the elimination of anonymous wack emcees and assorted thuggery. Ransom, Snype Lyfe and Cyssero don’t drop bad verses on the opening “East Coast Assault,” but their styles, in content and presentation, are so similar that their bars seem to just run together. There’s more distinction on ”Ain’t Hard to Find,” which features Dead Poets and Pacewon meeting the confrontational tint of Absurd’s production. The aforementioned rappers are different enough in the voices and flow to make the track work.
The old school heads take center stage in the middle. Jaz-O shows again that’s he perfected the art of flowing as he nimbly rides a beat accentuated with orchestral violin and brass horn chords. From a technical and energy aspect, it’s the EP’s strongest track (hence its first single status). Craig G has never been one to bite his tongue, and he takes aim at labels and radios for “fucking up Hip-Hop” on “Slap Nerds.” At a time where nearly everyone is afraid to give a dissenting word because of “hater” accusations, Craig G’s words have truth to them. Absurd’s production has a mellow and sad tone, but he adds a vocal sample of Audio Two (“Step up if you want to get hurt…”) to make it clear Craig G is willing to meet anyone lyrically who’s willing to challenge his stance.
DJ Premier’s influence on Absurd is evident throughout Flying Colors. Most of the tracks contain vocal samples and are punctuated by routine drum patterns. The clearest example is “Life Is Hard,” which scratches up vocals from the likes of Shyheim, Tupac and DMX. But when he does experiment, like the sprawling sax playing and southern-influenced drum patterns on “In My World,” Absurd also has success. Termanology and Big Lou have no issues riding the beat and close the EP as it should, with you wanting to hear more.
DJ Absurd offers no surprises or avant-garde experimentation on Flying Colors. This is strictly for fans of the East Coast underground. As Absurd moves onto his full-length, it will be interesting to see if he can expand to directing concept tracks and handling more diverse line-ups of emcees.
Cyhi Da Prynce caught everyone’s attention this week when Kanye West and No ID blessed him with one of the best produced songs thus far in 2011. Silly song title aside, “Woopty Doo” has excellent social commentary on materialism and is a perfect segeway to Cyhi’s new mixtape Royal Flush 2. With Big Sean’s Finally Famous dropping on June 28, this month is shaping up to a solid one for G.O.O.D. Music’s young guns.
CYHI DA PRYNCE X BIG SEAN ”WOOPTY DOO” (PROD. BY NO ID X KANYE WEST)
01. Spadez Interlude
02. When The Smoke Clears [Prod. By J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League]
03. Cold As Ice [Prod. By KB]
04. Bulletproof (Feat. Yelawolf) [Prod. By J Rob]
05. Thousand Poundz (Feat. Pill & Pusha T) [Prod. By Paper Boy Fabe]
06. Heartz Interlude
07. New Girl (Feat. Trey Songz) [Prod. By Lil C]
08. End Of The Night [Prod. By Shawty Redd]
09. Right Side Of The Bed [Prod. By Soundtrack]
10. Sunday Morning [Prod. By Beatfanatiks]
11. Clubz Interlude
12. Dance [Prod. By J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League]
13. Fightin’ In The Club [Prod. By Big Fruit]
14. Emotional (Feat. Tity Boi) [Prod. By DJ Spinz]
15. Made Me Who I Am [Prod. By CKP]
16. Diamondz Interlude
17. Take You Back [Prod. By S1]
18. Woopty Doo ft. Big Sean [Prod. By No ID & Kanye West]
19. Beautiful Mind [Prod. By Aktual]
20. Stadium ft. B.o.B [Prod. By Mel & Mus]
Everything in life has a soundtrack. That holds true even when we’re dealing with violence and mayhem. Digi Crates Records tests that theory with Beats & Bullets: Soundtrack To A Shootout, which is an instrumental album inspired by a cinema shootout. Helming the boards are Digi Crates Records’ international producers Kyo Itachi (France), King AL (sweden), Miedlev (Sweden), Tape Roc (Sweden) and DJ Kryptonite (UK). In addition, you have American artists like Roc Marciano contributing beats. The album is out today on iTunes and you can preview several tracks below.