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Eric Andre's Criticisms Of Hip-Hop Are Needed, And Here's Why...

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Recently Adult Swim comedian Eric Andre came out with a series of tweets that criticized hip-hop for openly embracing and promoting rap artists Kodak Black and XXXtentacion. Just so we're clear on what he said, here's what he said:

i was just looking at World Star Hip Hop on my IG and they’re always promoting XXX and Kodak Black. and i got upset.

i was also mad at myself for promoting XXXTentacion’s music the other day. my friend was like, “that dude beats up pregnant women” :(

1 out of 3 women are beat, raped, or murdered in their lifetime. that’s 1 billion women. Shits got to stop. No more apathy or indifference.

racism, sexism, homophobia - it's all bigotry. it is all part of the same systemic evil that keeps people subservient and disenfranchised.

Alot of supporters of said rappers on the Twittersphere have come out against Eric Andre with the same predictable defenses of their adored idols- in so many words: "She lied to get all his money!" and "They couldn't prove it court!" and "Innocent til' proven guilty, bruh!" And let's not forget the standard "Stick to comedy, bruh" which Eric Andre pointed out himself is just code for "Stick to apathy." and don't criticize anyone in our community.

But I for one believe we should demand some sorts of standards and accountability from our more visible hip-hop artists. There's nothing wrong with that. We don't have to celebrate negativity, violence, and misogyny. And I don't want to hear that "It's all just entertainment." cop-out. He singled these particular artists for a reason. That reason being their criminal records or alleged acts seem to be some pretty reprehensible stuff. They don't appear to be just talking the talk, they're actually walking the walk.

Another reason I agree with his criticisms is because if we don't question, challenge, and police our own culture and those who represent it, then those who are outsiders to our culture will begin to do so and often through a misinformed, uninformed, and biased prism. A lot of the current hip-hop audience (especially those who are fans of Kodak Black & XXXtentacion) are probably not old enough to remember when Fox News' Bill O'Reilly went on a crusade against rappers Nas and Ludacris (even causing Luda to get endorsements pulled from him) for their "vile, obscence" lyrics when in their personal lives, they were clearly normal, law-abiding citizens. And maybe they don't remember the days of C. Delores Tucker, VP Dan Quayle, Senator Bob Dole, and countless other high profile white folks who tried their best to put an end to "gangster rap" by taking the lyrics of songs totally out context to prove rap was responsible for cop-killing and every social ill of the inner-city in the early 90s.

So if they weren't around for days, maybe they don't understand the need for those within hip-hop culture to hold certain ones' feet to the fire for committing heinous acts in real life. It's like when we want Republicans and conservatives to denounce people who are racists and white supremacists and claim to be under that Republican/conservative umbrella. We should likewise denounce, or at the very least criticize those who are members of the hip hop community who seem to embody all those negative things (specifically misogyny & violence) that hip-hop's critics claim is synonymous with hip-hop music and culture itself.

Its waaay better for someone like Eric Andre (who's clearly a fan of hip-hop) to come out with these criticisms than some out-of-touch, but dangerously influential Trump disciples to come out against certain rappers. Because when that happens, the focus goes from a few bad apples to hip-hop as a whole genre because bigots and xenophobes don't have the capacity to distinguish between the good examples and bad examples and will paint all rap with same brush. And when that happens, record company execs and sponsors who pay artists for promotion will get shook from the political pressure and pull support from artists. When comedians, young black actors, or even other rappers criticize the culture, it's from an honest desire to want to see the culture reach it's potential and not go backwards or destroy itself. And it sparks discussions like these where we ask ourselves "Why aren't we giving more of a listening ear to rappers who are socially conscious in their content and personal lives??!"

We live in bizarre times where the media can villainize pretty much anyone. A movement started to stop police killing unarmed black people has been equated to the Ku Klux Klan. And I would hate to see hip-hop be made into the boogieman. Again.    

Is Andre 3000 Right? Can You Ever Get Too Old To Rap?!

Recently, hip-hop legend, pioneer, an MC extraordinaire and one half of Outkast, Andre 3000, came out in an interview with Complex and basically said in so many words that he was pretty much done rapping because he's too old. I don't want to paraphrase what he said and misconstrue what he was trying to say so I'll share the direct quote from the article:

  “I kind of like not being a part of [Rap music], now that I’ve done it,” 3000 tells Complex‘s Alex Gale. He continues “As I get older, I start to see myself move more back from it—the hustle and bustle of putting out an album, the pressure of being in the studio trying to come up with something. Now it’s more like a hobby for me, so I don’t think about it in that way. Even with Outkast, if we never do another album, I’m totally fine with that. When I was 25, I said I don’t want to be a 30-year-old rapper. I’m 42 now, and I feel more and more that way. Do I really want to be 50 years old up there doing that?”

“Rapping is like being a boxer,” André equates. “No matter how great you are or were at a certain time, the older you get, the slower you get—I don’t care who you are. And I can feel that coming on. There’s always a new wave of artists, and sometimes I’m just like, ‘I’m good. I’ll let the young guys do it.’” Moments later, he says, “I don’t get much happiness from doing music like that—I get happiness from pleasing who I’m working with, and helping them, and seeing them be excited.”

I respectfully disagree with 3 Stacks. Outkast hasn't released an album in over a decade with their patchy-but-still-great-in-spots Idlewild, but anyone who's heard any of Andre's guest verses he's peppered throughout the hip-hop world since then will agree that he has not lost a step at all lyrically and creatively and constantly reminds us just how far rap has fallen off in recent years. Speaking for myself personally, I know Andre's verses for "Walk It Out", "Everybody", "Sixteen", "Pink Matter" & "International Players Anthem", but I either cannot name the other artists on these songs or fast-forward through their verses. Okay, well...maybe not "International Players Anthem"...that whole song is fire, but Andre definitely outshines everyone on that joint too!

Another reason I disagree with Andre is because Jay-Z just taught us that grown men in their 40s can definitely still craft an "adult" sounding hip hop album that is commercially successful and socially relevant without catering to all the youthful BS in the industry. And I mean no disrespect to the Jigga Man, but Andre 3000, to me, is just a way more intriguing and creative MC lyrically. I'm sure plenty of heads who have been long time fans of him and Outkast would support and buy a release by him. Heck, A Tribe Called Quest was able to sell an album last year 18 years after they broke up. They sold 132,000 units and reached the number 1 spot on Billboard which a lot of current, more "relevant" artist cannot do. My point is that those like myself, who grew up on rap music, who are getting older, who still have the money to actually buy music...we haven't gone anywhere. We didn't reach the age of 30 and all of a sudden developed a taste for jazz or classical music. We still appreciate and dabble in other genres, of course, but we still need our hip-hop dag-nabbit!! I can only listen to the classics so many times before I just need to hear something new. And most heads I know around my age aren't gonna pretend to like Ugly God, Lil Uzi Vert, and Kodak Black just cause we're told to like them. Most heads I know. We haven't gone anywhere and we haven't all died off and we still have a hunger for good ol' hip hop that I think someone like Andre 3000 is totally up to the task to create. I know he compared rapping to boxing, but rapping ain't boxing. Rapping is rapping. And it's art. Much like sculpting, photography, or painting. And there are many examples of sculptors, photographers, and painters who produced works until the day they died or at least well into old age.

On the other hand, I do kind of get where he's coming from. He's paid his dues. He's provided classics that will be bumped for many years to come. He's made significant contributions to the culture and has nothing else to prove. And I imagine it gets increasingly difficult to fit into an industry that continues to cater to and encourage the most undisciplined characteristics of young people while you continue to grow old and mature. Because let's face it, for every Andre or Jay Z in the game, there are 21 21 Savages. Nobody wants to be that 45 year old in the club with a bunch of college kids. They look old and out of place, and should feel that way (R Kelly, I'm lookin' at you).

So at the end of the day, I respect and understand Andre's stance and position, but at the same time can't discard my wishful thinking hoping that cats like him will every once in a while shake up the game and show the young cats how it's done.

 

Rap Groups That Need To Reunite, TODAY!

Tragically, we've seen way too many MCs pass away in recent years. The departure of Mobb Deep's Prodigy has laid to rest any hopes of another Mobb Deep album or seeing them perform live one last time. And the passing away of J-Dilla, ODB, Fresh Kid Ice, Poetic, Guru, Jam Master Jay, MCA, Eazy-E, Baatin, and Proof has effectively nixed any prospects for complete reunions of groups like Slum Village, Wu Tang Clan, 2 Live Crew, Gravediggaz, Gang Starr, RUN DMC, the Beastie Boys, NWA, & D12, all of which have classic (or at least great) albums under their belt.

Fortunately, and in bittersweet fashion, my favorite group of all time, A Tribe Called Quest, blessed longtime fans with an official farewell LP that was in the works right before the untimely passing of core member Phife Dawg. And it turned out to be the best rap album released last year IMO.

So here's a list a hip hop groups, who's members are all alive still, that I would like to see reunite for at least one more album, before Father Time and the Grim Reaper strike again. Some of these groups are beefed out and split up bitterly, some just had creative differences and went separate ways, others might just be on hiatus. But they made magic happen when they were together, and I'd like to see that happen again. So, in no particular order, this is who I wanna see make one last go at it:

1. Black Star- Mos Def and Talib Kweli joined forces for only one album, but that album just happens to be regarded as one of the greatest hip hop albums ever. Both these MCs have gone on to do solo projects, have solid discographies, appear to be on the same wavelength creatively and lyrically, and are on good terms with each other and friends. So reportedly, its just scheduling conflicts and other personal obligations preventing an official reunion project. But if it ever does materialize, expectations will be set incredibly high, and maybe that alone will prevent it from happening...

2. The Fugees- There is some understandable bad blood between Lauryn and Wyclef, but man, can't they put that aside to help out Pras?!! I doubt he's driving an Uber now, but I'm sure he wouldn't mind the income from another Fugees album and tour. Once they found their stride in the studio, the music they cranked out was nothing short of amazing. But right after they dropped their one classic album, they went their separate ways and Lauryn and Clef almost immediately started throwing shade at each other and Pras dropped Ghetto Superstar. SMH. This is the one group I think is least likely to get back together though.

3. Pete Rock & CL Smooth- Why Pete Rock and CL started not getting along is still unclear, but what is still clear is their chemistry together on a track. CL's buttery, clear flow glides perfectly over Pete Rock's soul drenched, jazzy, boom bap productions. Even when it's been years since their last collabo, they seemed to have never missed a step. Not to mention, no other rapper sounds as good and natural over PR's beats than CL Smooth, and Pete Rock has collaborated with ALOT of MCs over the past 20+ years.  

4. Little Brother- This group was a victim of what I call the Gang Starr Effect, where the producer's acclaim and popularity surpassed that of the group members he came in the door with. As a group, Little Brother seemed to be stuck in the underground, and looked at odd by television networks and radio stations who couldn't make heads or tails of them due to them possessing no clear marketing gimmick outside of dope beats and rhymes. But at the same time, underground rap fans adored them, musically they seemed to have picked up where A Tribe Called Quest left off. While the group seemed to have hit a glass ceiling in the industry, 9th Wonder's production was being sought out by high profile acts like Jay-Z, Destiny's Child, and Erykah Badu. It was only a matter of time before the trio went their separate ways. Phonte, Big Pooh, and 9th Wonder have all had decent careers since, and appear to all have plenty of gas in the tank, so I think if they were to reunite their talents one last time, the result would be phenomenal.

5. Company Flow- El-P has reached "super-producer" status since his Company Flow days, producing classic albums and songs for Mr. Lif, Murs, Aesop Rock, and Cannibal Ox while heading his own indie record label, releasing a jazz album, a movie soundtrack, stellar solo LPs, and most recently joining Killer Mike to form rap duo Run The Jewels. El-P's sound has evolved and become incredibly diverse over the years, so I'd be anxious to see what he'd cook up for Big Juss and Mr. Len. As a group, they never shied away from speaking on politics, religion, family structure, and commercialism, so given the current, modern climate in Trump's America, I'm sure they would have plenty to say. Their only full length project, Funcrusher Plus, is also regarded as one of the greatest independent rap albums ever. Big Juss' solo album didn't have much replay value from what I remember, and it was clear El-P's production kind of forces the listeners to be attentive to their dense flows. I don't believe Mr. Len ever released a solo project, but I'm really curious as to what they would churn out.

Jay-Z's 4:44 Critical Acclaim, Explained

By now, unless you've been living under a rock, in a cave, on the moon, and your fingers in your ears, you've heard Jay-Z's latest album 4:44, or at least heard the reviews and commentary on it. Mainly, how much of a "grown" and "mature" album this release is. Over the course of the LP, Jay highlights the benefits of things like generational wealth, good credit, and investing in things like art and real estate. Concepts that are very foreign to a lot of young black men who listen primarily to rap. He also is very open and honest about personal shortcomings and his family dynamic. To put it bluntly, this was a very unconventional rap album and a very unconventional Jay Z as well. It was an creative left turn for him as an artist, and a thematic Russian roulette as far as rap albums go. Already, I'm hearing disc jockeys and critics placing 4:44 as one of Jay's top 3 albums, and some are even putting it at numero uno. That's saying a lot considering Jay Z is considered one of the best to ever touch the mic, and this is album #13 for him. After having a week to digest it properly, I can say I was pleasantly surprised by the album, but don't want to be a prisoner of the moment and put it on a pedestal prematurely, but I do think it falls on the more favorable side of Jay Z's discography.

But on to this business of how "grown" this album is. Let me first say that the definition of "grown" is extremely relative, especially within hip-hop. 4:44 has earned that label due to it's touting the aforementioned themes and avoiding hanging it's hat on what 99% of the rap world prides itself on: promiscuity, partying, pills, money, clubbing, violence, frivolous spending, and stunting. So kudos to Jay Z for that. But to perfectly honest, Jay Z isn't the first MC to record a "grown" album if you were to go by that definition. Granted, Jay Z is first rapper of his stature to do so, and maybe that's why he's being looked at like he's reinventing the wheel, but for years the Commons, Mos Defs, Talib Kweli's, and countless others have been putting out music that by any definition would be considered introspective and mature. But...we know how it goes. Because those artists and others like them haven't achieved the level of wealth Jay Z has, their opinion's and in turn, music, holds less weight. People of all races, but in particularly the black community, equate wealth with talent, business acumen, intelligence, professionalism, and credibility. These other "lower level" rappers also don't have the stature to partner with another major corporation to wholesale their album in advance sort to speak. So when Jay Z speaks, the world listens. And he chose to use his moment in the spotlight to impart some gems on the minds of listeners. This is something that is just not simply done (or is extremely rare) by rap acts who are on and popping right now. In fact, if Jay had released 4:44 as his second album, instead of his thirteenth, it might have been career suicide (especially considering there's no real radio single on here). Sure, back in late 80s and early to mid 90s golden era of hip-hop, who had numerous groups and artists who were instilled with a sense of black pride, spirituality, and knowledge of self, but hip hop has been going the way of the savages for a good 15+ years now. Some would argue longer. So when you hear people say "It's about time a rapper made a grown, mature rap album!" they're really talking about rappers among the current crop who are getting radio play and magazine covers, right now.

As for the rest of the rap world, hopefully they'll take notes. Maybe they'll put forth more of an effort to rap about adult things without fearing their sales going down the toilet. Maybe they'll experiment more and rap about family life as opposed to club culture. Maybe they'll encourage younger listeners to show more soundness of mind financially. Listeners will go on whatever journey you take them on as long as it sounds good.  Jay Z and many others who've come before him just proved that.

Best Hip Hop Albums Of The Year, So Far...

Here we are already at the halfway point of the year, and 2017 seems to be shaping up a lot like 2016: police are still killing unarmed people of color with no consequences, celebrities continue to bite the dust,  comic book heroes dominate the box office, politics continues to show us white skin and money take priority over everything... but fortunately the year has been shaping up to be a pretty decent year for hip-hop music as well.

Here are the 10 best hip-hop albums I've heard this year so far. By the end of the year, this list will likely change and I may have a whole different 10 albums, or maybe it might be the exact same albums, who knows?! But if you haven't checked out these releases yet to come out this year, I think you won't be disappointed if you did.

10. Insight & Damu The Fudgemunk- Ears Hear Spears: veteran Boston MC/producer Insight blesses fans of true school, boom bap hip hop with a no-frills, no-filler 10 track album featuring stellar production from D.C. producer Damu The Fudgemunk accompanying his effortless rhyme flows. This album sounds like it was frozen in time in 1996, and then was released today. A must listen for fans of boom bap!

9. Substantial- The Past Is Always Present In The Future- Maryland lyricist and underground veteran Substantial comes out of nowhere with this moody, yet very mature sounding LP that will impress any head who needs to hear some real grown up rap. While this album is not as heavy on the comedic, battle ready punchlines of Substantial's earlier work, he switches gears a bit and is more introspective, spitting rhymes about his past, parenthood, and the trajectory of black peoples' progress in America. Definite sleeper.

8. Nick Grant- The Return of the Cool- South Carolina lyricist Nick Grant blesses fans with another consistent project that combines witty, razor sharp, punchline driven lyricism with radio friendly production that will keep heads nodding and hips shaking. As one of the most underrated and underappreciated MC's in the game, Nick Grants proves on song after song why everyone needs to be put on notice about this dude.

7. The Underachievers- Renaissance- Flatbush, Brooklyn duo Issa Gold & Ak The Savior embrace the melodic, dusty, boom bap production (which has been making a comeback these days) for their appropriately titled Renaissance album.  Rhyming about life lessons as well as smoking really strong weed, they are a group that you can chill out to but also know to take very seriously when the mood calls for it.

6. Talib Kweli & Styles P- The Seven- Never judge a book by its cover, because while the album cover for this looks like it was done by a 6 year old with only 3 crayons, what's contained on here musically is a true work of art. It's an EP, so while it's runtime is not as long as a full length LP, it's straight to the point with no frills and filled with clever, well thought out lyrics over hardcore, boom bap flavored beats. Talib delivers for the conscious rap fans and Styles delivers for the street rap fans, yet they compliment each other perfectly while speaking on the same topic on the same song, but through two different prisms. So there's something on here for everybody. Don't sleep!

5. Venomous2000 x Trilian- Sounds of the Great Ones- This album truly came out of nowhere for me; it popped up in my recommended album feed in my Bandcamp page and I really dug the album cover and decided to check it out. And boy, was I pleasantly surprised! Venomous2000 drops track after track of dope, battle ready lyrics over Trilian's aggressive, polished production. Fans of Dilated Peoples, Wu-Tang, Redman, Cannibal Ox, etc. will appreciate this brand of increasingly rare hip hop. Contributions from Inspectah Deck, C-Rayz Walz, The Artifacts, Reks, and Shabaam Sadeeq also give this album a punch as well.

4. Raekwon- The Wild- Wu-Tang wordsmith Raekwon comes back strong his seventh solo LP. On this release, he utilizes a variety of classic old school break beats as well as lush, soulful Motown era samples that give the album a definitive vintage feel. But there are moments in the album where Rae shows he can still hold his own amongst the current crop of spitters and dips his toe into the more contemporary sounds of the day and invites guests like Lil Wayne and G-Eazy. Not to mention, the autobiographical dedication to Marvin Gaye he does is worth the price of admission alone.

3. Murs- Captain California- Mid City, L.A. veteran Murs has been blessing the underground masses with dope underground music for 20 years now, and on his 15th LP, Captain California, he returns to his roots sort of speak with cleverly written songs about everything from hollering at females to gentrification to just having a bad day in the hood. Most of the songs on here are stories, so it makes for a very entertaining listen. The production has backbone but is still easy on ears enough that it doesn't take too much attention away from the one you should be listening to the most, the MC. Check out this album, but if you haven't already, google this man's discography and check it out. Because this album is merely a tip of the Murs iceberg.

2. Joey Badass- All Amerikkkan Badass- Joey is an MC that I have been rooting for since I heard Survival Tactics back when he was only 17 years old. From the jump he embraced the grimey, boom bap, laid back production that was the signature sound of 90s golden era hip hop to compliment his steady fire flows. But being so young at the time, you didn't know if he was going to be a one-trick pony and fizzle out or grow with his art. Fortunately Joey B eludes the sophomore slump with delivering a concise, consistent, and sonically diverse album that tackles race relations in America in a way that I have not seen done since the days of Mos Def and dead prez, and definitely don't see from many of his peers.

1. Kendrick Lamar- Damn. This should come as no surprise that this album made the top of the mid-year list. Ever since he entered the game, Kendrick has demonstrated a consistency that has not been seen in 10+ years from hip hop artists and shows no signs of slowing down or falling off. Damn. is an album that is deeply insightful, reflective, and socially aware but at the same time radio friendly and melodic enough to compete with all his rap contemporaries.

Concept Albums Are A Dying Art, Here's A Few You Should Check Out

A concept album can be defined as an album with a unified theme. In other words, it could be an album where a story is told from the first song to the last, or contain a few songs connecting a particular theme or story. Or it could an album where the performing artist(s) delve into a whole different personality or persona and pretend to be such over the length of the album.

In today's day and age, with so much emphasis on hot singles, concept albums (especially hip-hop concept albums) are quickly becoming an endangered species. Albums as a whole have grown less important with the mixtape revolution that began to spawn circa 2002, allowing artists to stay connected with their fan base by dropping material as frequently as they wanted as opposed to having to wait for some record label A&R telling them when their album was finished and they could have it released. Most recently, we've seen the newer format of the "playlist" being released by artists which have been loosely defined as a "soundtrack to one's life"??!!? Whatever. Sounds like a cop out just in case the body of work is disappointing, it can struck from the official discography. Music consumers as a whole seem to have shorter attention spans and don't want to invest 60+ minutes hearing out an artist lay out a theme/story, unless that artist already has a lot of equity built up with that listener; and sometimes even then it works extremely well, and at other times it can fall flat (see: Kendrick Lamar & J.Cole). And to be honest, it is a lot easier creatively and artistically, for a performer to put out an easy-on-the-ears single accompanied by album filler, as opposed to a body of work of 10+ songs that's meant to be consumed as a whole. 

So here's part one of a list of hip-hop concept albums that are personal favorites of mine (in no particular order) that I feel any fan of hip-hop would enjoy and be thoroughly entertained by:  

1. Prince Paul- Prince Among Thieves (1999 Tommy Boy Records): Legendary hip-hop sampling pioneer Prince Paul employs the services of Breeze Brewin' of the Juggaknots and his buttery, smooth flow to tell the tale of an ambitious MC on the rise who gets caught up in the treacherous trap of the streets. Breeze effortlessly pushes the narrative over an array of dope, diverse beats and highly amusing skits. Other legends' contributions are sprinkled throughout the project such as De La Soul, Kool Kieth, Chubb Rock, Killa Sha, Biz Markie, Big Daddy Kane, Everlast, Sadat X, Xzibit, and others.

 2. Little Brother- The Minstrel Show (2005 ABB Records): For the sophomore LP from North Carolina trio of Big Pooh, Phonte, & 9th Wonder, they seemed to want to exorcise some demons and vent some frustration with their experience in the entertainment industry (Google "Little Brother BET controversy" or "Little Brother The Source album rating controversy"). What resulted was a masterfully crafted album that used satire to skewer the collective modern black entertainment industry Bamboozled-style. Various sub-genres of rap, "black" television channels, black shopping habits, even the format for the modern R&B single at that time found themselves in the group's cross-hairs with hilarious, but thought provoking results. If you haven't already, please check out the "greatest colored show on earth"!

3. Masta Ace- Disposable Arts (2001 JCOR Records): Juice Crew alum Masta Ace comes back from a seven year hiatus to bless us with this gem of a concept album and just a great hip-hop album, period. Using his simple, straight forward flow and signature vocal tone clarity, Ace lays out a detailed story of a young man released from prison who has to get acclimated again in the streets and neighborhood he left behind while he was in prison for some time. He engages with old, familiar faces who are pulling him in different directions and he ultimately decides to do something constructive with his life while the cast of characters around him eventually meet less than desirable outcomes.

4. The Streets- A Grand Don't Come For Free (2004 Locked On Records): British rappers have never been my cup of tea (no pun intended), but UK wordsmith The Streets lays out a musical page-turner of a plot involving a shady friend, a shady girlfriend, and a missing $1000. His suspicions and reactive nature take him down some twists and turns over the course of the album/story, but it all culminates into a feel good conclusion that doesn't seem too Hollywood nor too iconoclastic.

5. Mr. Lif- I Phantom (2002 Definitive Jux Records): Boston MC Mr. Lif went all out and deep on niggas with his full length debut LP I Phantom. Lif guides the listener into and through the world of a young man coming of age who falls victim to all the trappings of young adulthood before finally repressing his rebellious spirit to go to school, get a 9 to 5 job, and settle down with a wife. Little does he know, the straight and narrow, corporate life comes with its own variety of evils and pitfalls as well. On top of that, Lif also narrates mankind's descent into madness and self-destruction in the most literal way, aided by technology. This album is not for the casual hip-hop listener.

6. RZA- Bobby Digital In Stereo (1998 Gee Street Records): Wu Tang Clan producer and unofficial leader RZA came out the gate on the conceptual tip with his debut solo LP, fully immersing himself into his alter-ego of Bobby Digital. This character seems to be part superhero, part bionic man, part pimp, and part space age rapper. RZA lets his hair down with polished, keyboard and synth driven beats accompanying raps about weak MCs, getting drunk, and chasing women. I admit, that may not sound too left field for a rapper, but it's not what you do, it's how you do it. The flow of the album, guest appearances, and next level production all made for an entertaining trip into one of hip-hop's greatest minds.   

Part 2, coming soon...

Music Critics Vs. The "Streets" by Bug One

   The release of Kendrick Lamar's new album  Damn.  has once again shown me the huge differences between how music critics digest albums and how the "streets" digest music (by the term 'streets' I'm referring to the general public of rap fans currently buying music). Let me first say that I thought this last album by Kendrick was phenomenal. And from everything I've read online, most of the music critics out there agree with me or at least felt the album was well above average. His perspective, approach, creativity and voice is much needed in the genre of mainstream rap that has grown increasingly materialistic, shallow, hedonistic, and savage.     But unfortunately, the vast majority of young (and not so young) rap fans I talk to about the album really aren't feeling it. For my 9 to 5, I'm in and out of grocery stores all over the south side of Chicago staffed with fellow black men between the ages of 18 and 40 and naturally we get into discussions on current events, politics, and of course music. The overall reception of the album was unenthusiastic and the overall opinion of Kendrick was that he was a "weirdo rapper", "not black enough", "doesn't go in hard enough", "too laid back", and I even heard one guy say he "wasn't savage enough" and attributed his fame and record sales to "niggas on the west coast". Everybody has their right to an opinion (especially with something as subjective as music), but I just don't know what album they were listening to! Now I heard similar complaints about Kendrick when he released  To Pimp A Butterfly  about him being too weird and not giving the streets what they want to hear and I disagreed then too.      It's all made me wonder why the streets hardly ever embrace the same music that music critics hold in such high regard. Is it because they live different types of lives so feed off different types of vibes? Is it that music critics get their music for free so aren't as demanding and picky as far as what they want to hear? Is it that they've listened to sooo much music due to their profession that they are more welcoming to left field, artistic risk-taking? Do we need more music critics that are actually from the streets or even still "in the streets"? Are cats in the streets dumbed down so much by everything else classified as rap that a Kendrick Lamar comes off...well, weird? I really don't have the answers. I wish I did so this article could be longer. But I do know what I like, and I do know I vibe with all of Kendrick's releases heavily. He's 4 for 4 currently on his first 4 LP's, which hasn't been done in rap in a loooong time. And I do know that rap music that's universally heralded by critics (as of lately) usually gets dissed or ignored by the majority of the hood, but I kind of blame that partially on the extinction of record stores.     What do ya'll think? Do music critics just have bad taste in hip hop? Do I? Do street cats just not want to hear weirdo rap? Am I polling the wrong people? Is there such thing as music people  want  to hear but also music people  need  to hear? What do ya'll think? 'Cause I ain't got the answers, Sway.

   The release of Kendrick Lamar's new album Damn. has once again shown me the huge differences between how music critics digest albums and how the "streets" digest music (by the term 'streets' I'm referring to the general public of rap fans currently buying music). Let me first say that I thought this last album by Kendrick was phenomenal. And from everything I've read online, most of the music critics out there agree with me or at least felt the album was well above average. His perspective, approach, creativity and voice is much needed in the genre of mainstream rap that has grown increasingly materialistic, shallow, hedonistic, and savage.

   But unfortunately, the vast majority of young (and not so young) rap fans I talk to about the album really aren't feeling it. For my 9 to 5, I'm in and out of grocery stores all over the south side of Chicago staffed with fellow black men between the ages of 18 and 40 and naturally we get into discussions on current events, politics, and of course music. The overall reception of the album was unenthusiastic and the overall opinion of Kendrick was that he was a "weirdo rapper", "not black enough", "doesn't go in hard enough", "too laid back", and I even heard one guy say he "wasn't savage enough" and attributed his fame and record sales to "niggas on the west coast". Everybody has their right to an opinion (especially with something as subjective as music), but I just don't know what album they were listening to! Now I heard similar complaints about Kendrick when he released To Pimp A Butterfly about him being too weird and not giving the streets what they want to hear and I disagreed then too. 

   It's all made me wonder why the streets hardly ever embrace the same music that music critics hold in such high regard. Is it because they live different types of lives so feed off different types of vibes? Is it that music critics get their music for free so aren't as demanding and picky as far as what they want to hear? Is it that they've listened to sooo much music due to their profession that they are more welcoming to left field, artistic risk-taking? Do we need more music critics that are actually from the streets or even still "in the streets"? Are cats in the streets dumbed down so much by everything else classified as rap that a Kendrick Lamar comes off...well, weird? I really don't have the answers. I wish I did so this article could be longer. But I do know what I like, and I do know I vibe with all of Kendrick's releases heavily. He's 4 for 4 currently on his first 4 LP's, which hasn't been done in rap in a loooong time. And I do know that rap music that's universally heralded by critics (as of lately) usually gets dissed or ignored by the majority of the hood, but I kind of blame that partially on the extinction of record stores.

   What do ya'll think? Do music critics just have bad taste in hip hop? Do I? Do street cats just not want to hear weirdo rap? Am I polling the wrong people? Is there such thing as music people want to hear but also music people need to hear? What do ya'll think? 'Cause I ain't got the answers, Sway.

Rappers That I'm Calling It Quits On by Bug One

   Sadly, anyone who's been a fan of hip hop music for as long as I have, has most likely come to grips, at some point, with the fact that one of their favorite artists, perhaps someone they've been influenced by for years and grew up listening to, has fallen off or just ain't what they used to be. I go through this once every 7 or 8 years, and the following is a list of one time favorite rappers/artists that I've realized I just need to call it quits on. The reasons for each one may differ: lack musical output, lack of good musical output, a change in style, or just plain ole' getting outshined by other artists who do what they do (or did) better. And this does not mean I don't view these artists as dope artists! Some of them are my personal favorites. It's just the writing on the wall is spelling out to me that I probably should not, or won't, be buying anymore music from them.

1. Mos Def (AKA Yasiin Bey)- Mighty Mos Def was once a part of the Mount Rushmore of avant-garde MCs (along with Talib Kweli, Common, & Pharoah Monch) who spear headed the lyrically driven independent rap scene in the late 90s. He's got 2 undisputed classics under his belt with his solo debut Black On Both Sides and his collaborative LP with Talib Kweli under the Black Star name and is still in my personal top 10 of greatest MCs. But since Mos' last LP (2009's The Ecstatic), and changing his name, Mos has been busy with everything but rap, such as acting, activism, and bouncing back and forth between the States and South Africa. Yasiin Bey announced he was retiring from making music after releasing one last album (so technically he's calling it quits on us, we're not quitting him) with producer Ferrari Sheppard and released 2 new singles from the already delayed project that had a bizarre, electro-rock flavor to them. Nothing against left field sounds, but it just didn't measure up to his past work. If that was any indication of where he's going creatively, I hate to say it, but his best work is long behind him.

2. KRS-One- He's paid his dues, gifted us with classics, and made his indelible mark on hip-hop music. But lately, I haven't been feeling this elder statesman of rap mainly because of his ill advised decision to defend and excuse fellow hip hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa amidst numerous allegations of sexually abusing and assaulting teenage boys in the 80s. He even said those who want Bambaataa to answer for his alleged crimes should quit hip-hop. I wasn't there when all this stuff went down allegedly, so of course I can't say what happened, but the evidence doesn't look good for Bam. And for KRS-One to give a full throated defense of this man, and make it about hip-hop, is irresponsible, obtuse, inadvisable, and makes me not want to hear any new music from this man.

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3. RZA- He will always be in my top 5 greatest producers of all time, but the Abbot just doesn't have that magical touch anymore. After dropping the ball on the last two Wu Tang LPs, production-wise, favoring experimental and cinematic soundscapes over his grimier, darker, simpler, signature sound, I can't say I would buy anymore albums produced by him whether they're solo products or Wu affiliated.  

4. Lupe Fiasco- It hurts me to say this about my fellow Chicagoan. At one point, about 12 years ago, Lupe seemed poised to take over the game with his uncompromising, intellectual lyrics over slick, radio friendly production. The rap game had also evolved at that time to the point where Lupe's nerd-chic style was a welcome breath of fresh air amidst the hip-hop uniform of white tees, over-sized throwback jerseys, & New Era hats. But since 2007's The Cool, Lupe has not been able to give us consistent LPs that match his earlier work. A brief mixtape here, a musically off-center LP there...next thing you know, he's accumulated a pretty dare I say, average discography. It also doesn't help when you go around saying that your own albums aren't that good, even to you!

5. Slaughterhouse- I was so excited back when this group formed. It was a lyrical rap fan's wet dream seeing MCs Crooked I, Joell Ortiz, Royce Da 5'9", and Joe Budden form this supergroup. All these guys were proven, lyrical heavyweights in their own right, so if you combined them, and throw the support of the Shady/Interscope records juggernaut behind them, what could go wrong??!!! After releasing a handful of projects featuring ill-fitting beats over their aggressive flows, that never really lived up to the hype behind a group like this, and reportedly stalling their next release due to nitpicking and various other reasons, the group's overall momentum and buzz has seemed to fizzle out. I'm still pulling for these guys to get it together as a group, but to be honest, they all seem more focused and appear to perform their best on their solo projects as opposed to as a group.

6. Kanye West- Do I even need to explain this one? For me, part of the appeal of rap music is being able to relate to the lyrics and topics the MC is speaking on. Kanye at one time, I felt, provided a much needed voice in hip-hop for middle class black kids who grew up in the city and have an appreciation for certain "non-hood" things. Now, he's just that weird second cousin of ours who's won the lottery, moved out to the suburbs, is self absorbed, alienated from any kind of struggle, and likely voted for Trump. 

7. Jay Electronica- This one hurts me the most, and there is a part of me that is still willing to spend $15 on whatever album Jay Elec drops, whenever it drops. Jay has always struck me as an artist's artist's artist, a man who will be uncompromising with his music, but most of all, a lyrical beast who could put 95% of the rap game to shame. But unfortunately, homie just doesn't seem that interested in putting out music at the moment. He blessed us with phenomenal features, freestyles, and mixtape tracks as early as 2007, but after a few years of waiting for an official release...well, we're still waiting.  Maybe he doesn't want to dip his toes in this crazy, fraudulent rap industry? Maybe he's uninspired? Maybe he's just uninterested? Maybe whatever album he had in the works got mired in record label/A&R interference? Maybe he has bigger priorities on his plate right now? But this unofficial state of retirement he's in doesn't bode well for hearing an album from him anytime soon.

Picture courtesy of Google

Picture courtesy of Google

Mumble Rap Ain't My Cup Of Tea, But...

by Bug One   

 I got to say- I'm getting a little tired of hearing heads my age and older complaining about it. They have no rhymes, no vocabulary, they repeat the hook over more than half the track, it has no connection to the elements of hip hop culture, and even most of the beats sound the same... I've heard all the complaints. And all the complaints are valid. But my fellow aging heads need to give it a rest. The newest, most popular crop of MCs (and I use that term loosely) aren't my cup of tea personally and their music doesn't speak to me, but it doesn't have to. Hip Hop music has always been driven by the tastes of urban youth, and to be honest, I'm a thirty-something 9 to 5er, husband, and father who's already taking cholesterol medication and planning to move out to the suburbs as soon as I get my first win fall of cash. I don't sip lean. I don't pop pills. I don't turn up. Heck, I don't even think I've stepped foot in a club since 2009. Getting my brakes done and my front porch weather proofed is my idea of a productive weekend. So I recognize I'm not part of that young crowd that the Lil Yatchy's and Uzi Verts and Travis Scotts are making music for. Let the youngin's do their thing and have their music.

   Hip Hop music itself is almost 40 years old at this point. Just the music. B-boying and graffiti art are even older. But think about Rock music when it was 40 years old. From the 50s to the 90s, it's sound evolved and changed drastically. You had classic rock, heavy metal, soft-rock, folk rock, progressive rock, grunge, alternative, punk, the list goes on...all these sub-genres of rock n roll had their time, scene, and poster children that were representative of whatever they were being labeled as. The same thing  happened with Jazz. Between the 1920s and1960s we saw the emergence of swing, big band, free jazz, ragtime, bebop, Afro-Cuban, modal, and cool jazz and they all made significant contributions to the genre.  Now I'm not saying I believe mumble rap  is going to make a lasting impression and in the year 2037 there will be documentaries made on the genius and impact of the Slime Season releases, but I am saying no genre stays recognizable and forever identifiable by it's initial audience. Looking at what's happened with other genres in the past, it's really not all that unfathomable that hip hop will, and has, split into several sub-genres. We've seen boom bap, g-funk, backpack, true-school, conscious, southern, trap, crunk, and now whatever this newest stuff is called.

   I personally like hip hop to have banging boom bap-ish, soulful beats with substantive, conscious lyrics sprinkled in with battle ready bars (I have The UN's U N Or U Out bumping in the background as I write this). But I recognize that's not what everyone wants to hear. At the same time, fellow heads and casual rap fans who often complain about the current state of rap music have to put their money where their mouths are and buy and support what they deem to be real hip hop. I'm tired of seeing 35 year olds buying Drake and Future albums so they don't look old and out of touch, and then turning around and saying "Whatever happened to all the real hip-hop? These cats wouldn't be allowed to exist if 2Pac was still alive!"

   As far as these new mumble rappers not paying respect to those who came before them, it's annoying and bothersome that there's a disconnect between rappers who are popping now and the aging class of rappers who paved the way for them and made it possible for these kids to live off their "craft". But let's be honest, most people don't idolize those who came 20 or 30 years before them. Most people look at whatever was being made during their coming of age as the standard. There's no way I will convince my parents' generation that 90s R&B could hang with, or be better than, what was being made in the Motown/Chess records era. Nor do I need to.  Every generation has their idols. I grew up on Wu Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, Fugees, De La, Mobb Deep, Snoop, The Roots, Black Star, etc., and while I have a respect for who and what came before them, I don't own a single album by Whodini, Just-Ice, or the Ultramagnetic MCs (with the exception of a few singles from a golden -era rap compilation CD). I did my research and due diligence on the Slick Ricks, Kool G Raps, and KRS-Ones and even copped most of their discographies, but some cats I just never got around to. I'm saying that to say these mumble rappers shouldn't have to know every Nas verse or list Biggie and 2Pac in their top 5 dead or alive. Cause they didn't grow up on them. Something could be said for the lack of respect shown to the greats, but that's a topic for another day.

   In the meantime, let these kids rock out. Let them live. Let them grow. Let them mature. Cause one day, they'll be us.