Admittedly, I’ve never been the biggest Atmosphere fan, and the hia collection of YouTube videos (and I mean collection, shit!) to promote “When Life Gives You…” didn’t really convert me in to a true-blue fan either. However, the duo of Ant & Slug churned out a good…..REALLY good album with their ,08 release, “When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Sh*t Gold”. While I wouldn’t exactly designate Atmosphere as “trend setters”, these cats are very innovative and have set out to carve their own path to truly push the envelope of what has become acceptable within the limits of a “traditional” Hip Hop album. And let’s face it, the outward appearance of these two isn’t considered exactly “Hip Hop” either, but fu*k it, who cares? “When Life Gives….” was probably in my top 15 releases of the year thus far, and I’ve never even owned an Atmosphere record besides “Seven’s Travels”, which my Wife (then Girlfriend) sent me in a “care package” when I was deployed in Iraq. Now, that was a pretty dope album as well as it provided the background music to alot of good memories that I took along with me following my term in the Military.
“Me” just so happens to be my favorite track from the album. Ant provides Slug with a beautiful sound scape for Slug to unveil his self-depreciating, reflective lyrics that perfectly describe his past while rapping in third person. It’s almost as if Slug is looking at himself in the mirror, revisiting a time line in his life that he would rather mend than regret. “Me” is super mellow and cooled out, mainly in part to the soothing guitar lick and the heavenly vocals that stray in the background. A word of advice, even if you aren’t the biggest Atmosphere follower (much like me), be sure to give “When Life Gives…” a listen, you won’t be wasting your time!
If there is one thing that occurs within underground Hip Hop every year, there are supposed “Great” albums that, when released, surely weren’t deserving of half the hype they received. On the flip side of the coin, there are always the less-hyped acts that drop surprises. You can add “Dela” the later list as “Changes Of Atmosphere” dropped outta’ nowhere and was extremely really refreshing.
Hailing from France, similar to the Jazz Liberatorz, he connected with a slew of American artists to shine over his soulful productions. “…Atmosphere” had a mellow jazzy vibe with deeply textured beats, think “Main Ingredient”, yet remaining innovative and distinctive. Dela showed his love for Pete Rock on the Large Pro assisted “Chill”, which is one of the best Pete Rock produced beats that the Soul Brother #1 never did!! I really loved the whole album, the production was just so slick and the range of guests, from Blu to Talib Kweli really sparked my interest as well. “Changes…” was a truly fine display of talent from an International cat, that really proved that Hip Hop has turned into a worldwide affair!!
Yeah, yeah, yeah…we’re all aware of the drama surrounding Big Boi and Killer Mike…errr…there was “drama” I should say (it seems that the tension between the two has ceased). However, the real focus needs to be on Killer Mike’s “I Pleage Allegiance To The Grind II”. Now don’t get it twisted, I’m as big of an “East Coast head” as you’ll find, outside of Outkast and a few others, I’ve never been a huge fan of “Southern” Hip Hop….especially with the most recent flood of B.S. emerging from that part of the map. However, Killer Mike nailed it with this release, touching on a wide array of subject matter over trunk rattling beats that rattle your ribcage.
“God Is In The Building” is as eerie as it gets. Over the same sample that PMD (of EPMD) popularized with the “Rugged N Raw” remix (that also featured Das Efx, I believe), Killer Mike went for broke with a little assistance from an angelic hook that paired up nicely with the tone of the sample. It doesn’t matter where you’re at or where you’re from, be sure not to let Killer Mike’s “I Pledge Allegiance….” fall upon deaf ears. “God…..Is….In…..Me”…
“Da Incredible Rap Team”? Ummm, not so much on this album, but still most of the time the results were very, very good. Most die-hard B.C.C. fans never thought the day would come when a 3rd album from this dynamic duo would ever drop after the very wack “Magnum Force”, which dropped nearly 10 (!) years earlier. The Boot Camp Clik are one of the few crews from Hip Hop’s Golden Era that managed to comeback in this decade with some good material without sounding like some old washed up veterans.
Heltah Skeltah are still a dope combo that hasn’t forgotten how to keep it lyrical and energetic. There’s still an unmistakable chemistry between Ruck (Sean Price) and Rock, and that “chemistry” took center stage on the Marco Polo produced heater, “Insane”. On “Insane” , “D.I.R.T.” unleashed ill bombs in succession and there’s just so many quotables on the track that it’s hard to keep up with all the dopeness. The only thing that really hindered this release was the production that seemed to slow down near the end of the album. However, for the majority of “D.I.R.T.” the production was fairly good and sat well for the rough and rugged vocal stylings (yet sometimes very comical) of Heltah Skeltah. A definte “must check” for 2008.
Uhhh…I got a quick question? Why in hell is no one even mentioning L.E.O.’s “Spiritual Intelligence”? You see the little fine print in the the lower left hand corner in the pic to your left? That’s right, produced by Large Professor….11 tracks….the whole album…produced by the one and only Large Pro! Okay, I know that statement may not hold alot of weight in light of Large Pro’s less than impressive “Main Source”, which found itself amongst the pages of subpar reviews, but still. Trust me, I know just as much about L.E.O. as you do and the first question that I had after listening to this album is “why didn’t Large Pro keep some of these beats for his own sh*t?”.
While L.E.O will suffice on the mic, he’s no Nas and lyrically he’s just average in my opinion. But the beats on this joint for the most part are….Wow!! I still can’t believe that this album earned next to no ink, even if it’s solely based on it’s production merits. “Mother Of God”, even though the lyrics may contain a lil’ bit too much religious dogma for my taste, was crazy nice!! Large Pro dropped some of the finest production that we’ve heard from him in years and the Nas featured hooked is icing on the cake. In cased you missed out you can still DL “Spiritual Intelligence” HERE (via GrandGood…only 985 downloads? WTF???). I STILL can’t believe that Large Pro didn’t keep some of these beats for “Main Source” (shaking head)!?!
In 2008, it seemed as if Oh No also tried his hand at remixing Percee’s ‘07 release “Perseverance” once again! This coming after Oh No’s big brother Madlib handled the original production on “Perseverance” and then gave it another ‘go round in the winter of ‘07 and remixed the project himself. However, plain and simple, this sh*t was banana sandwich!!! Oh No’s beats and sequencing seemed to cater to Percee’s aggressive, rapid fire delivery, whereas the pairing of Madlib and Percee seemed to come off as “awkward” at times. Oh No’s production on this effort is top-notch, the bass thumps and there are moments where I felt as if I’m listening to some of the Bomb Squad’s earlier production. Matter of fact, I’m sitting here listening to this album in my headphones as I’m typing this and I’m just pissed at myself for not listening to the album more than what I already did!! Of all the efforts Oh No has put out, this has gotta’ be his crowning moment thus far and I’m a HUUUUGE fan of his debut, “The Disrupt”. Great stuff, Peep it HERE.
In 2008, “Tronic” was the true testament to Black Milk’s maturity as an emcee and a producer. In this past decade of listening to Black Milk (yeah, back in the BR Gunna dayz), for the first time I can hear “Black Milk” coming from his tracks, in other words not so much J Dilla influence. With “Tronic”, Black Milk displayed his new found love for synthesizers/keys that were filled with texture and warmth. The way he layered his beats on this album was very impressive, particularly on some of the “outros” that took the track to it’s close (“Without U”). “Hold It Down” may have been the only track on the album I didn’t really care for, the rest of “Tronic” was downright enjoyable!
Throughout the majority of the album, Black Milk had enough going on in his music to never lose your attention, for the most part-just like “Try”- the production is busy and hectic (think “Bomb Squad” or J-Zone). Black also seemed to step up his pen-game a bit, to the point where I thought he had a ghost-writer on a few of the tracks….I mean, he REALLY stepped it up on the M-I-C. With this album, Black’s delivery is definitely more aggressive, as shown on “The Matrix” where he fit in alongside Pharoahe Monch and Sean Price without being placed in the Eminem’d (see: “Renegade”). Black Milk is pretty much a battle rapper throughout much of “The Tronic”, with various insertions about his life in the “D” and politics thrown in for good measure. And while I’ve seen on various spots that “Try” is considered to be the weakest track from the album, I consider it to be the best….even if short, lyrically, than the remainder of the content on the album…it’s still “Tronic’s” most danceable and most importantly…FUN track.
It’s been nearly 3 years since the original Scribbling Idiots duo brought you their debut collaboration. Well in 2008, the wait was over. JustMe & Cas Metah were back and “Unemployed”, their 2ndfull-length project together and it’s just what you enjoy from these (Scribbling) idiots: Witty battle rhymes, thought-stirring lyricism, and the sarcastic raps you love and expect over jazzy, boom-bap production. This side project also featured the rest of the Scribbling Idiots crew and beats from Scribbling Idiots, Muneshine, Vintage and more.
“EmoCoaster” was an up tempo little ditty, detailing “a day in the life” of an underground artist, complete with tales of not getting paid after a show, primary income from “merch” (merchandise) sales and the general pitfalls of being an independent trying to carve out a name for yourself. “Emo…” also boasted stellar production from fellow Scibbling Idiots alumnus Theory Hazit. “Are Unemployed” is yet another good “Christian” rap album that has joined the likes of Poems’ “Blooming Sounds” as a solid release that should not be missed just because it isn’t exactly “hardcore” per se.
The GZA…GENIUS!!!! GotDamn!!! Dude came full circle with “Pro Tools” right? Let it be known, when this leaked mid-summer…well….let’s just say out of all the albums that I..umm…previewed, this was one of the most pleasant surprises. Not to say that I’m not a fan of the GZA’s body of work (Liquid Swords=CLASSIC), but outside of Ghost and the most recent Wu album, I tend not to get too excited about anything emerging from the Wu camp anymore. However, GZA gave me a big “Fu*k You” with “Pro Tools”!! This album was without question his best album not named “Liquid Swords”, the lyrics were sharper the production was bangin’ (with a few small exceptions) and if I were rating this album I’d give it an easy 8/10.
The true gem on “Pro Tools” was “7 Pounds”, which was produced by….you’ll never guess…Black Milk!?! I know, an odd pairing no doubt but it passed the test with flying colors. The only beef that I had with the track is that at 2:41 it’s entirely too short, especially when taking into account that it’s the highlight of the album. Juk, Jukka, Genius…take us the F*ck outta’ here!!!!!!!!
Out of sheer curiosity, I downloaded ThinkLoud’s “Uncommon Perspectives” from the now defunt, “Konstant Revoloution, and you might as well go ‘head and add this album to my “list of pleasant surprises” for the year. This complilation of sorts included 16 tracks of exclusives, remixes and previews from the Thinkloud label that provided you with a preview to some of their upcoming releases for 2009. Whether it’s the third album of houseartist Lars vom Dorf (which this CD was packaged with as a “sampler) , a see behind the sound of Dub-Hop project Kobolski or maybe to even introduce you upcoming neo-soul artist like Miles Bonny (who drops the smooth “Sing Your Song” or Reggie B this album featured a wide array of talent.
Also along for the ride on this sampler are Maryland’s own Kev Brown and Oddisee who delivered an idea of their sound from ThinkLoud’s “Sidewalk” EP via one of the dopest cuts of the year “Sidewalk Jazzin”. With “Sidewalk Jazzin” Kev & Oddisee not only revisited Hip Hop’s “golden era” lyrically but also with the Native Tongue-ish’ production. Also, take a look at “SMAGRADEN”, where Jeannine & Laszlo showed up with a nice progressive, abstract neo-soul track. Even though some of the artist delivered lyrics in their own “native tongue” on the tracks, you won’t ever get lost in the shuffle as the majority of the album featured incredibly dope production to keep you tuned in….even if you can’t interpret some of the lyrics. Definitely worth checking out. if only for “Sidewalk Jazzin” and the “Intro”, which featured and ill guitar lick and is one of the illest beats this year…..too bad, it’s less than two minutes long and is just an “intro”. Since this album is a “sampler” per se, I don’t mind hooking you up with a “shared link”….ENJOY!!!