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How Big Is Your World? New Rap.

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-UGK “7th Street (Interlude)”

There’s a million reasons why Pimp C’s death was a tragedy, but the one that UGK 4 Life mainly brings to mind is how much further Pimp could’ve–and would’ve–taken UGK’s sound. Around Dirty Money, it seemed like Pimp had found way to use his singing voice and rapping voice as extensively as his musical voice. By the time we had Pimpalation and Underground Kingz, he wasn’t giving Bun a breather for a verse or like offering an interesting contrast, he was forming his own, equally complex and rarified thesis on the world around. That his incomplete thesis would end with this demand for real-ness in the form of women not shaving their pubes is perfect.

UGK 4 Life moves even further into Pimp’s odd and incalculably influential idea of “country rap tunes” (emphasis on tunes). Be it B.O-Bobby Ray, Andre 3k, or Kanye, all of them get inadvertently shown-up on this track, as Pimp drops more palpable emotion in this minute and a half of singing than dudes do on whole albums or disastrous SxSw performances. “7th Street Interlude” reminds me of those lo-fi folk songs on the last Witchdoctor album, not only in their shared ability to do a lot more than most with only a little, but in terms of like, hinting listeners towards the possibility of an all-out singing album but wisely leaving it at that…for now at least…or what should’ve been “only for now” but you know, the Pimp is dead. Contained within “7th Street Interlude” though, is the seed for a UGK nerd to sprout into the beautiful, heartbreaking R & B album Chad Butler would’ve dropped in like another decade.

-Big Pooh “Power”

Ever since Getback, it seems Little Brother have come to terms with not being superstars and the very real fact that they don’t make radio rap, and it’s made their music way more likeable, even when something as obvious as the industry’s taken on–the topic of this wonderfully off-the-cuff Delightful Bars (iTunes Version) song. Here, Pooh comes off more like a burned veteran, hoping to give warning to rapper friends as idealistic as he once was. That the song also frames itself around the nebulous concept of “Power”, is at least a little more sophisticated or like, discerning about how stuff works and the precise reasons why it sucks. “Power” is just sort of reaching-out and throwing up its hands at a loose concept that undeniably corrupts and cripples everything.

And it doesn’t hurt that it’s spit over the freakiest, Nintendo Entertainment System beat of the year (alongside Christopher “Deep” Hendersons’ “Blame It” beat for Jamie Foxx). Khrysis brings Rock N’Roll Racing computerized guitar riffs, Dragon Warrior electro-flute, and Super Mario Brothers 1-Up! effects all together into something that still bumps enough that Big Pooh and O. Dash can spit complainer rhymes to and not sound out-of-place. Right before the beat repeats its loop, it’s sorta like the part of “Swagger Like Us” when Jay does that at-first dumb but really kinda goofily transcendant “Ho-o-Ova…” speak-sing thing.

-Unladylike “Bartender”

Already mentioned this, but I’m gonna get all So Many Shrimp on you and be like, “Hey, more people should be talking about this!”…”Bartender”s beat’s real minimal and slinky with moments that max-out, vibrating and swarming around almost evil-like, especially on the hook where it’s “Kernkraft 400″ on it’s ninth shot of Grey Goose, trying to build-up proper and explode but just sort of rumbling around like too much liquor sitting at the bottom of your stomach–reminds me of that recent Diplo/Blaqstarr joint that, while we’re at it, more people should give a shit about too.

Both Unladylike members have a good sense of fast-rapping that seems to be important for all females rappers to do–why, I don’t really know–and Gunna in particular, has a way of sneaking up on you moving from a Southern style drawl to rapid-fire raps, especially when she comes out of the first hook still rapping and into the second hook. Tee isn’t quite as nimble but she’s the secret star of the group, injecting some warm ugly reality into this drank rap. More fun and self-effacing, she devotes her brief verse to the awful-feeling you get when liquor hits you all at once, touching on the not-so-smart decision that more drink’s the answer, and ends it with a hard-ass flirt/demand to meet her in the bathroom. Neither hyper-sexual or Jean Grae “true” and “natural” or whatever, Unladylike stand in that awkward place female rappers (and really maybe females in general) aren’t allowed to occupy: just hanging out, being real.

-Eddie “In Reality”

Like a Baltimore version of North Carolina’s Hall of Justus, E Major-fronted Undersound Music are becoming the go-to for really solid, forward-thinking, fun but traditionalist hip-hop. The newest project is Sound Wandering from Virginia Beach’s Eddie. Somewhere between the avant-orthodoxy of Dilla and the out-and-out weirdo-ness of Flying Lotus or Prefuse 73, Eddie’s formula of in-the-ether soul samples matched-up against clunking, trebly electronics results in a kind of middle-brow experimentation that’s a delight when most to all “conscious rap” producers are either stuck in 1996 or trying too-hard to sound like Year 3006.

“In Reality” revolves around a stretched-out strings sample that expands and contracts and sounds a little melancholy. Stacked atop it though, are some really determined drums and an echoing synth-line that sound confident and ready to take over the world. The song’s on a mission; it could score the transcendent, life-changing moment at the end of some character study. A person holding onto a big decision and standing on the beach…or on Pluto for that matter. The really odd coda where it goes all-out with the fluttering electronics and inexplicably morphs into Eddie’s cell-phone ring and an aimless one-sided phone conversation is the right kind of weird, doesn’t make sense indulgence.

Written by Brandon

March 29th, 2009 at 7:50 am

How Big Is Your World? New Good Rap.

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-Bobby Creekwater “I Mean It”
“I Mean It” is free on Bobby’s Myspace

“I Mean It” isn’t a masterpiece or anything but it’s got the same appeal as all the best rap that contains actual rapping. It doesn’t matter what Creekwater’s saying or really, how he’s saying it, just that he’s going in with rapid-fire raps about everything and nothing without trying-too-hard, “Yo, I’m going in on this one” indicating and just making something dope. Like so many actual rapping raps from the Golden Era too, “I Mean It”s simply about how dude is awesome or “real” but Bobby’s found a slightly less played-out way to talk about how “real” he is, framing it around word-is-bond type chants that flaunt genuine real-ness: Honesty, integrity, sincerity. He laconically drawls out, “If I say it-” and then desperately asserts,”I mean it, I really mean it” because he’s floating around on SHADY Records without a record release date and outside of sheer talent–which sure as fuck doesn’t necessarily sell records–it’s the only gimmick he’s really got. Sincere conviction’s a good gimmick though.

-Lil Wayne “Prom Queen”

This song gets better–the worst of it’s those corporatized post-hardcore guitar strums, Wayne’s rocker grunt, and the subsequent unfortunate cascade of P.O.D-heavy guitars that would score a date-rape on Degrassi: TNG. From there, it never like, gets good but it’s better than “Lollipop” if only because Wayne’s weird, half-ideal, half-bitter tale of a nerd who wanted to get it with sadly beautiful titular Prom Queen is really bizarre and affecting. Wayne’s a free-verse freaky freak I know, but he’s a really great storytelling rapper in his own way too and he uses it (and wastes it) on “Prom Queen” expertly. “She tried to keep em entertained/When they can hardly re-member her name…” is the same kind of melodramatic empathy for the rarified shitty hand chicks get dealt that you get on his “Sweetest Girl” remix or any time he opens up and talks about his Mom. Then, he matches it with the bitter vengeance that only a sensitive, rejected nerd can have with those lines about her “crying, sitting outside [his] door”.

-Soulja Boy “Hey You There”

Whether he tries hard at rapping or not, Souljaboy’s iSouljaBoyTellEm is a ridiculously solid album that does exactly what it sets out to do really well. Rappers I actually like don’t make albums as entertaining as this or as weird and homegrown as “Hey You There”. Souljaboy’s little intro thingy basically explains how they made this song–some goofy-accented Mall Cop yelled “Hey! You there” and they, inevitably clowned on him for the rest of their time tearing the mall up, then went home and made this song. Produced by Souljaboy himself, it’s this really insane intertwining of voices and the simplest of percussion (cymbal, snap, 808 thump) and it just keeps going and going for-fucking-ever! What “should’ve” been a weird interlude or even skit, rambles on for almost four minutes and gains something through the indulgence. It’s sort of hypnotic and you only get pulled out of because there’s a fart joke, a Rick James reference, or something wonderfully juvenile like that.

-E Major & DJ Impulse “Paper Runnin”
“Paper Runnin” with a remix is available from Undersound Music

Woozy washy synths, E-Major’s mournful ode to the paper chase and random vocal manipulations overwhelm the dance-ready club break that shuffles–but never explodes–underneath “Paper Runnin”, making it some weird not-quite club, almost ambient hip/trip-hop/house track (or something?). Nowhere near as dense as the Block Beataz, but similarly drunk and “fuck a club” music avant weirdness that would totally bang in a club, or close to the beats on It Is What It Is and parts of Crack–which I’ve taken to calling “Tim Hecker beats”–”Paper Runnin” is especially vital because it’s two people from the wonderfully incestuous Baltimore hip-hop, dance, and club scenes dropping a hard-to-categorize joint like this at a time when “Bmore club” has become a formula for don’t-even-know-they’re-cynical-about-it, out-of-town artists and DJs. Towards the end, when the song’s sounds further devolve and fumble into one another, there’s a few moments of laser effects, malfunctioning drum stutters, and E’s chant that’s particularly glorious and easily, the best, weirdest musical moment of the young new year.

-College “The Energy Story”

Like Jonas Reinhardt’s also a little slept-on self-titled release from last year, College’s Secret Diary does basically one thing and does it really well for an entire album, with little interest in who will get it and how. Unlike Reinhardt, College isn’t locked-up in some old-fashioned Stockhausen-like lab of big-ass computers and farting electronics, he’s trying to make sad, happy, simple music that grabs from 80s electro less for day-glo irony and more for hazy, bittersweet emotions. “The Energy Story” is one of the less one-note sounding songs of the album, but it’s a good introduction, with a simple melody and an uncluttered mix of keyboards and drum machines that still somehow, have that recorded from a degraded VHS layer of warmth around them. The vocals are fighting against something, quivering and almost getting to a point of really singing but never totally getting there, instead huddling up in the same limbo as the music, somewhere between dancey and depressed, immediate pop and foggy avant-garde–the wonky emotions of the 80s movies and culture College is all about.

Written by Brandon

January 29th, 2009 at 7:40 am

How Big Is Your World? New Rap Songs.


-Nappy Roots ‘Good Day’
Click here to download ‘Good Day’
Driving around North Carolina two weekends ago, this song was on the radio constantly but it hasn’t made its way to Baltimore/DC stations or maybe they just aren’t interested in it, which makes sense because back when they were popular, Nappy Roots seemed pretty second-rate. A few years later, given the insane amount of Southern rap that gets on the radio, these dudes seem a little more interesting. ‘Good Day’ makes absolutely no 2008 rap concessions…it sounds the same as the songs that got Nappy Roots big in the early 2000s or maybe like something of Scarface’s ‘The Fix’ when he’s rapping manic utopianism instead of depressive fuck-it-all threats.

-88-Keys featuring Kid Cudi ‘Wasting My Minutes’
Click here to download ‘Wasting My Minutes’
The thing about this track is that it doesn’t hide its obvious production tricks at all. The sample slowly mutates into chipmunk voice along with some really simple Daryl Nathan-esque keyboard squelches, a subtle drum and then, this really heavy drum drops along with some perfect la-la-las and the song finally begins. The concept’s funny and like knowingly offensive and boiling it all down to the dumb girl’s wasting his cell-phone minutes is extra hilarious. It’s not a surprise that Kanye’s releasing dude’s album; this is the kind of shit Kanye’d still be doing if he wasn’t a megastar.

-E Major ‘Don’t Worry’
Click here to download ‘Don’t Worry’
The thing about this dude E Major is that his music won’t click right away. Of course, it sounds like really solid, 90s-influenced “hip-hop” and that’ll do, but his beat selection and the shit he raps about sort of slowly gels together over a bunch of listens- except for ‘Don’t Worry’, which should grab anybody with ears. A beat by DJ Excel that rides some whirling soul-strings and really weird-sounding drums–it sounds like a drum and a clap hitting at the exact same time– as E essentially raps about his minor victories as a rapper and then changes it up in the final verse that shouts-out a dead friend, drops the bragging for self-reflection, and humble thank-yous, then fades-out…

-Cody Chesnutt ‘Afrobama’
Click here to download ‘Afrobama’
Really topical songs of political hope are always better than hyper-topical songs decrying the government or the president or whoever else. Curtis’ “Nixon sayin’ don’t worry” works and Willie D’s final verse on ‘Point of No Return’ from ‘The Resurrection’ grabs political outrage in a way that’s clear enough whether you know who J Edgar Hoover is or not, but too many songs of the sort just feel knowing and obnoxious. Whether Obama’s the second coming to you, the better of two evils, or the dude you’re plain not voting for, ‘Afrobama’s just unabashedly celebratory and you should relate to that sense of actually caring enough about something to make a song about it. Also, just a really smart song in terms of referencing or trying to ape the political urgency of someone like Fela; also, the song feels like a sly reference to Vampire Weekend’s Afro-pop aping. Will there ever be a follow-up to probably the fourth best album of the 2000s ‘The Headphone Masterpiece’?!

-Mt. Eerie ‘Appetite’
Click here to download ‘Appetite’
The Microphones–now Mt. Eerie– have always been masters of the quiet/loud indie-rock dynamic. They–or really he, it’s just Phil Elverum– took the dynamic to the next level, eschewing the predictable quiet guitar to loud jangle explosion for Phil Spector-sized drums and belted-out vocals and ‘Appetite’s essentially more of the same, but stretched even further. As indie pop essentially becomes the new pop, it’s interesting that Mr. Best Album of 2001 According to Pitchforkmedia keeps moving further away from iPod commericial indie and instead, mines the quiet/loud dynamics of metal, especially black metal here. The drums and guitar pummel even more and pound even faster and there’s some like Sabbath-ish guitar harmonics going on and that Burzum buzz, but there’s still Elverum’s pleasant voice and sincere lyrics, so it’s never genre-hopping as much as it is internalizing the parts of the genre that he can squeeze into his own music.

As usual, here’s a zipfile of all five songs…

Written by Brandon

June 24th, 2008 at 7:47 am

E Major ‘Majority Rules’: Bonus Features

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As an addition to my review of ‘Majority Rules’, I thought I’d throw-out some additional information on E Major and highlight some favorite tracks from his album, which is available for free but if you have some money to spend, it’s more than worth the 15 dollars.

This isn’t exactly a Baltimore blog–there’s already the hyper-comprehensive Government Names anyways– and I don’t think I have a ton of Baltimore readers but E Major is performing with Blu & Exile at SONAR in early July and actually, this weekend, he’s part of a really interesting performance/workshop for kids on the “Art of hip-hop” hosted by Sean Toure:

June, 21 2008 at The Park Heights Community Health Alliance
4151 Park Heights Avenue., Baltimore, Maryland

E Major ‘Majority Rules’ (Under Sound Music)
-‘The Next Episode’ (produced by DJ Face, scratches by DJ Excel)
The first proper track on ‘Majority Rules’ with a really great Primo-type beat and E dropping a really affecting story of his life moving between Baltimore and California and his involvement in hip-hop from fan to rapper. Plenty of stuff for pretty much any rap fan around my age to appreciate and relate to.

-‘Livin the Life’ featuring We & Us and Tia (produced by E Major)
I love how this record starts with this record scratch–a perfect production choice– and then the horns come in and it slowly becomes an actual beat. One of the best aspects of ‘Majority Rules’ is the use of female voices for hooks and sometimes just la-la style singing behind the beats which reminds me of Little Brother and some of the best underground rappers that know how to mix hip-hop with catchy hooks and more mainstream production. Also, the guests on this track, We & Us do exactly what guests do on all my favorite rap albums: come in, kill it, and jump-out. Us in particular, has a great verse: “to death I lost two brothers/I ain’t been straight since/But I learned to gracious to this gift I can’t dismiss it/Now every day I wait, it’s a celebration bitches”. Never heard of We & Us before this track but I’m going to look out for them.

-’Nuthin Nice’ featuring Hezekiah (produced by Dre Belovit the Truth)

-‘How You Wanna Carry It?’ (produced by zu_keeny)
This song takes its hook from an early 90s Baltimore classic ‘What’s Up What’s Up’ (sometimes ‘Whatzup Whatzup’) by Miss Tony (sometimes Ms. Tony, and later as Big Tony). Miss Tony is a really fascinating Baltimore personality, who was famous as a female impersonator and radio DJ. He died in 2003, a few months after a compilation of his songs came out. My old computer’s fried and it’s where I had most of my music, so you’ll have to settle for this YouTube video that plays ‘What’s Up What’s Up’. The best part of E’s interpolation I think, is how he got that very specific pronunciation of “carry” on the track.

-‘Make It’ (produced by Heroes 4 Hire)
‘Majority Rules’ goes beyond just being hot because E Major’s constructed a really cohesive album. The last bunch of tracks are on an R & B style without ever sounding lame or crossover-y and this is my favorite of them. The first verse is basically about being a fuck-around in high-school–like almost every smart, interesting person, right?– while the second comes in with a story of how hard his Mom worked to make a better life for him, how he’s going to do the same and it’s punctuated by a change-up in the soul-strings. Affecting, smart stuff.

Written by Brandon

June 19th, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Posted in Baltimore, DJ Excel, E Major

City Paper Review: E Major ‘Majority Rules’

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Here’s my review of Baltimore rapper E Major’s album ‘Majority Rules’. Later today, look for a follow-up post with some mp3s and additional info on E. For now, here’s the review and here’s E’s MySpace:

“Despite its many puns on “major,” independence pervades Majority Rules. E Major’s album–available on CD and free download on his MySpace–succeeds because it’s an uncompromised 17-track drive through the rapper’s life. This is more than enough, now that even your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper drops a major-label mess of crossover attempts and corporate accord.

Early tracks invoke everyman realities, such as tension between paying rent and pursuing a dream: “I hope you’re listenin’, y’all, because if not/ it’s back to 40 hours a week punching the clock” (from “Magnificent Pt. 0″). “Next Episode” charts an adolescence bouncing between Baltimore and California, and tosses in some wistful rap-nerd references–”me and my homies recited lines from Black Moon”–atop taut boom-bap by DJ Face with scratches from BMore Original’s DJ Excel. E further explores the porous borders of Baltimore club and traditional hip-hop on “How You Wanna Carry It,” a song that grabs its hook from Miss Tony’s classic “What’s Up What’s Up”.

As the album moves along, E Major perseveres, so when the Excel-produced “Don’t Worry”–the “I’m finally making it” song–explodes, it’s earned. The rewards are there, but they’re simple stuff like Nike Dunks only available in Japan, and the joy is still tempered by a final verse for a friend who passed before E’s rap shit kinda popped off. It has what every track on Majority Rules has: a proper mix of swagger and sincerity–as E says on “A Fresh Start,” “present my sentiment without being too sentimental”–atop remarkably consistent soul beats.”

Written by Brandon

June 19th, 2008 at 8:21 am