Saturday, January 29, 2011

January 2K11 in Hip Hop Terms

The Lowdown, 1/29/11

So, I've decided to start doing a little rundown at the end of every month of rap-related releases that stood out to me in the last 30 days. Consider it like a series of mini-album reviews and headliners. Or better yet, consider it an excuse for me to find more things to write about to keep this blog active with, cus' that's what it primarily is, HAH! The backpack does need to stay bigger, after all.

January 2011 kicked this year off with a couple of interesting indie rap releases that stood out to me. Namely:

1) Carnage "Worth the Wait" (Fill in the Breaks/Hecatomb)

The first rap release of this year that caught my attention was Carnage's long-overdue sophomore album, which registers as one of the most aggressive and abrasive hip hop albums in recent memory. I would refer to Carnage as a "Minneapolis rap veteran" or "Eyedea's protege," but he openly airs his disgust for both of those titles on the track "Black Steal," so I think I'll refrain from fueling his flames any further. Carnage seems angry enough as it is, after all. This album is a pretty far stretch from easy listening, and it took me a couple of spins before the songs began to click, but they did after a while. Carnage has his own style that he's been honing for years and he just sounds hungry as hell on here. His style sounds sort of like a mix between the more modern off-beat angry rappers like K-the-I??? or Sole and old school Run DMC, and he flips some really sick verses over the course of the album. At times, I feel like Carnage is trying a little too hard to wow people with his styles and is not focussing enough on making a cohesive album, as the smattering of noisy beats and outlandish directions can feel like a bit of a mess. He would probably benefit from working with one or two key producers (*cough*MediumZach*cough*) rather than recruiting a different producer for every track, as this might unify the sound of his next album a bit. Never the less, there is some seriously ill material on "Worth the Wait," and it really grows on you with repeated listens. Give his single "I Want It All" a listen below:

2) Onry Ozzborn "Hold on For Dear Life" (Fake Four Inc.)

Well what can I say, Onry Ozzborn and Oldominion have pretty much been killin' shit these days. Dark Time Sunshine's "Vessel" was easily one of the top 5 hip hop releases of last year, and Onry has just continued grinding out quality material non-stop since then, whether it be his guest spots on his numerous Oldominion cohorts' albums or his free full length solo endeavor "No Hoax" (available for download at Circle Into Square and recommended by this humble blogger). "Hold on For Dear Life" is reported to be the final Onry Ozzborn solo album, but you can hardly blame the man when he has his hands full working on new material for both Grayskul and Dark Time Sunshine. This new album features production from a number of Seattle's talented beat-makers, including Smoke, Budo, Bean One, and Peegee13. I was also very happy to see some of Onry's slept-on Oldominion pals guesting on a couple tracks, with Candidt and Xperience (would somebody sign this man already?!) standing out in particular. All in all, "Hold on For Dear Life" is a very good album that I'd rank above any Grayskul release, but which isn't touching the heights attained by Dark Time Sunshine's full length. The songs have a quirky electro vibe to them that works well for the most part, but while Budo and Bean One deliver exceptional beats, Smoke is a bit of a disappointment to me on this. Maybe it's because he's generally my favorite producer of the Oldominion collective and my expectations are high, but I felt that a number of Smoke's productions didn't stand out to me on this album... Then again, his contributions to "N.W.A List" (possibly my favorite song on the album) and "All to Herself" are pretty damn crazy. A fairly solid piece of work overall, worth checkin' out. Listen to the single "That Good" featuring Sapient below:

Onry Ozzborn - That Good (f. Sapient) by Fake Four, Inc.

3) Neila "Only This One Counts" (Grimm Image)

I just love how all my favorite LA underground artists keep dropping dope albums out of the blue, like the homegirl Neila here. This record was nowhere on my new release radar, and then all of a sudden it magically appeared up for sale and looking mighty tasty. To be honest, I have yet to hear "Only This One Counts" because of my lack of record player, but I'm listing it here because Neila has rarely disappointed in her output and deserves your support in her current fight with vocal chord cancer. Thankfully, she seems to be in high spirits and on the road to a swift recovery, but the $$$s invested in this piece of wax are going to cover hospital bills, so make sure you support it if you dig her music! I'm gonna snatch one of these LPs up for a friend of mine in the near future, but memo to Grimm Image Records: could we get a taste of these tracks on CD at some point as well? :) This LP is currently orderable via Access Hip Hop (of course!) or through Neila directly. The track "Run Closer" is listenable with a slideshow of art below:

That about sums it up for January... February is looking like a mighty fine month for releases with new ones from Sims, Awol One & Factor, Void Pedal, and Austin Peralta on the way. Bring it on.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Help Support Neila!

The Latest, 1/27/11

I was recently very bummed to learn that Neila, a terrific MC from LA's bustling music scene and one of the stronger female voices of West coast hip hop, is currently battling vocal chord cancer and could use the support of her fans to help overcome hospital bills and rent. In her own words:

"PLEASE SUPPORT MY ALBUM TO HELP PAY FOR HOSPITAL BILLS AND RENT! I have vocal chord cancer, things are looking good, this LAST ALBUM with my real voice,my right vocal chord is altered LIMITED EDITION COLOR VINYL $15 includes shipping for continental order you must email me with your physical address and your email address. ONLY THIS ONE COUNTS...PROD. REZULT, feat. dj handprints,& dj skid"

You can get in touch with Neila on her Facebook page to order this limited wax, or purchase it through Access Hip Hop who are close supporters of Neila as well. Alternately, if you'd like to make a monetary donation of any amount to Neila's cause, you can do it through Paypal under "Gift" to

Neila has numerous excellent releases under her belt, including collaborations with some of the LA undergrounds finest rappers and producers (Omid, Deeskee, Awol One, Xololanxinxo, Matre, Existereo, Acid Reign, etc. to name a few). Her monotone delivery and impeccable flow offer a unique style that stands out in a scene known for its abundance of styles, plus she seemed like a very nice person when I saw her live in San Francisco a few years back. A person well-worthy of your support.

Run Closer by Neila.Produced by Rezult.from the album"Only This One Counts" by RezuLt

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Of Swan Storms and the Quiet Following Them

The Latest Greatest, 1/23/11

New double CD by Xczircles and Aamir, both of the West coast underground group Escape Artists. Entitled "Swan Storm" and "The Quiet After the Storm" respectively, these albums are packaged together and will be released on Ooohh! That's Heavy Records on March 1rst. Though I haven't really followed their releases, the Escape Artists have been putting it down for a while now and are a well-respected group in Southern Cali's massive underground circuit. Xczircles has done a fair share of solid production work for LA heads, including an excellent instrumental album "The Purge" which went almost entrely unnoticed due to record label difficulties. In case this info doesn't interest you though, these two upcoming albums boast a jaw-dropping guest list of West coast talent: Aceyalone, Myka 9, Awol One, Eligh, Scarub, Bigg Jus, 2Mex, Ellay Khule (on a couple spots!), Riddlore?, Gel Roc, Mike Ladd, K-the-I???, and the list goes on... That pretty much guarantees these albums at least a listen in my book! Tracklisting and sample songs below:

Disc 1: Xczircles - Swan Storm

1. Edge Of My Bed
2. Just A Ride
3. Ate Up (feat. Rifleman (Ellay Khule))
4. Obstacles
5. Toy Video (feat. Mike Ladd)
6. World Round
7. Onni (feat. Wormhole)
8. Sleepeasy
9. Correspondence (feat. Ahmuse / Thesis Sahib)
10. The Product
11. Sketch Artist
12. Heavy Handed
13. City Of Lights (feat. 2Mex / Aamir / Bigg Jus / Geneva B / K-The-I???)
14. We Burn The Same
15. Dementia
16. Golden Dream

Disc 2: Aamir - Quiet After the Storm

1. The Birth
2. The Difference (feat. Flux / Generous)
3. Contaminated Energy
4. The Owl And The Crow (feat. Eligh)
5. Reflection
6. Broken Window (feat. Aceyalone / Gel Roc)
7. Stuck In A Maze
8. The Quiet After The Storm (feat. Flux / Generous / Scarub)
9. Sands Of Time (feat. Ceschi / Cognition / Rifleman (Ellay Khule) / Flux / Gel Roc / Generous / Ivan Ives / Jizzm / Maylay Sage / R)
10. No Destination
11. Together Forever
12. Love Goddess (feat. Myka 9 (Mikah 9))
13. Feel The Sun (feat. Bahati / Natalie)
14. Opposite (feat. Awol One / Xczircles)
15. Oh So Blue
16. The Laughter Within

Xczircles "City of Lights"

Find more artists like Xczircles at Myspace Music

Aamir "The Quiet After the Storm"

Find more artists like Escape Artists at Myspace Music

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sadistik, Sarx, A_Rival & Woke With a Plan at Kimo's, SF

View From the Front Row, 1/20/11

The other night, I went and caught the "Company of Wolves" tour featuring Sadistik, Sarx, A_Rival and Woke With a Plan over at Kimo's in San Francisco. I wasn't that familiar with the headliner Safistik's music, but had heard of him through his collaborations with some of Mac Lethal's producers as well as his touring credits, and was curious to hear what he sounded like. David Downey Jr. of Woke With a Plan is also a buddy of mine that I hadn't had a chance to see live yet, so rolling out to this was a must.

I had only been to Kimo's once before this when I tried to see K-the-I??? live, but due to some complication in scheduling and unannounced cancellations I ended up almost buying a ticket to the wrong show (K-the-I??? later played at Elbo Room, which I did make it out to). A similarly funny and awkward experience happened to me at the Kimo's ticketing counter this time around - the kind lady working there asked me who I came to see, and when I said it was a tie between Sadistik and Woke With a Plan she made me pick one while both artists were present and listening in the background! I ended up choosing Woke With a Plan because of the personal affiliation, but chatted it up with pretty much everyone and bought one of Sadistik's EPs later on. The crowd and music space were predictably tiny, amounting to maybe 10 people at the height of the evening's festivities, but the sound quality was very good and the low turn out didn't prevent everyone from having a good time.

Woke With a Plan was the first act to take the stage, with David Downey Jr. on vocals, Topher M Lewis on keys/samples, and Randy Ziady-Huling on turntables. To preface my slightly biased thoughts, I should note that David Downey Jr. and his buddies are some of the nicest, most down-to-earth rap dudes that you're ever likely to meet and hang out with. I was curious to see how their music would translate to a live setting since their "Friday Morning EP" (available at Amoeba Music or CDbaby) is pretty low key and personal... not really the sort of stuff you'd expect to make for an entertaining show. Fortunately, Woke With a Plan really had their act together and put on a very focused and engaging set, which incorporated severed head props, megaphones, humorous film dialogue sampling, personal interjections and plenty of chemistry between the three performers. David Downey Jr. seemed very animated in his rapping despite the small showing of people, and the ways that he vibed off of Topher and Randy's contributions was great. A strong set by these three that solidified my appreciation for their music, check'em out in the Bay Area if you get a chance.

A_Rival was the next performer to get on stage, and was the act I was most skeptical about since I seem to recall hearing his album and not being a fan of it. Maybe I need to revisit his music or maybe he's a horse of a different color on stage, but A_Rival put on a very entertaining set of 8-bit video game tunes and funky dance maneuvers. One of the best parts of his performance was seeing how much fun he and his buddy DJ Circuit were having on stage, as they were frequently grinning ear to ear and cracking each other up over their tunes. Two highlight musical moments may have been DJ Circuit's scratch routine over the music from "Duck Hunt" and A_Rival's "Last Boss" cheater-diss song finale. A very good set that had Sadistik bugging out over how cool it was.

Speaking of Sadistik, the tour headliner decided to perform next due to some tequila-related complications, and he definitely poured his heart out for the handful of fans in the room surrounding him. The subject matter of Sadistik's songs struck me as very emotionally based, with lots of tracks about exes and relationships gone awry, and his taste in beats definitely leaned towards the grandiose and symphonic. I was surprised by just how passionately he got into his rapping, as from the first track onward he was spitting in a lively and energetic way that can only come from lots of touring experience. He shared some very personal tidbits of information about certain tracks with the tiny crowd that won't be repeated here out of respect for the privacy of the people his songs deal with, but needless to say it was some pretty intimate shit. Impressive set.

Sarx came out to perform last in light of Sadistik needing to get his drank on, and put on a nice set as well. Out of the various performers, Sarx was the only one that I knew nothing about, but tours like this one are a good way of becoming acquainted with new artists and Sarx had some cool material for sure. His rapping wasn't nearly as lively as Sadistik's or A_Rival's, but he had a certain soulful quality to his vocals that added a bit of originality to his tracks, and his subject matter seemed more varied than the acts before him. He also performed two Lazerbeak-produced numbers that were good, and ended things with a cool Armageddon party style joint. Plus, he was wearing a Threadless Tee design that I used as my desktop background for a couple of years, which gives him instant props in my book! Much respect.

All in all, this was a dope and intimate show that made up for the New Years Oakland Metro debacle that I kicked my 2011 off with (that show will never get a write-up on here, for the record. Doseone and Jel deserve better!). Good performances all around.

Here's a bit of live footage of Sadistik and Woke With a Plan:

Sadistik "Ashes to Ashley" (snippet):

Woke With a Plan "Move"(?):

75 Ways to Try, and One is Animated

The Latest Greatest, 1/19/11

Here's a pretty brilliant animated video of the new Awol One & Factor single by Plastic Horse. The animated Ceschi's smile is kind of creepy in an awesome way, and the increasingly aggravated Factor behind the wheel of the car is hilarious. Plus, Awol's line "Walk through the town and they spit on me/ teach their dog how to shit on me" sounds even better when accompanied by that ugly ass cartoon mutt! Anyway, Awol One & Factor's new album "The Landmark" drops on February 15th, and this song is on it. If you wanna catch these gents on tour, that's happening as well. Dates listed below:

The Landmark Tour featuring Awol One & Factor, Ceschi, and Cars & Trains:

02.17 | Seattle, WA | Chop Suey
02.19 | Portland, OR | Backspace
02.20 | Boise, ID | Visual Arts Collective
02.21 | Reno, NV | Se7ens West
02.22 | San Francisco, CA | Elbo Room <-- I will be at this :)
02.24 | Los Angeles, CA | Echoplex (Fake Four Fest
02.26 | San Diego, CA | Soda Bar
02.27 | Las Vegas, NV | Daddy Mac's (w/ Onry Ozzborn / without Cars & Trains)
02.28 | Tempe, AZ | 910 Live (just Awol, Factor, Ceschi with The Insects and The Intercepterz)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

75 Ways to Try, and One is Going Awol

The Latest Greatest, 1/18/11

So Fake Four Inc. has been slowly releasing leaks and info regarding Awol One & Factor's new album, "The Landmark," which is going to be released nationwide on February 15th. The first official leaked tracks are playable below, along with the tracklisting, which boasts the likes of Buck 65(!) and Abstract Rude amongst others. By the sound of the samples I've heard of this so far, Awol One seems to be moving back into moan-singing territory after the upbeat vibe of his last few albums, which may or may not be a good thing. Factor has really been in his element as of late though, so my guess is this album will end up ill. Here's the single "You're Never Gonna Take Us Out," which features the catchy strained-singing of Ceschi Ramos on the hook:

Awol One & Factor "Never Gunna Take Us Out" feat. Ceschi by Fake Four, Inc.

And below the intro track of the album, which is preluded by a sample of the beat from the track "People On Drugs"... which sounds like exactly the kind of beat that I want to hear Awol One moan over.

Tracklisting for the album pictured below:

Sims "Bad Time Zoo," Austin Peralta "Endless Planets," Void Pedal "Omni-Colour," and this album... February 15th is shaping up to be the first exciting indie rap release date of 2011. :)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Destro Destructo "Working Progress EP"

Expanding the Backpack, 1/17/11

This one is pretty dated by blogosphere standards and ain't quite as good as some of the other free download albums available in this section (check out the Jordan Miche EP or Void Pedal EP to see what I mean), but Oldominion has definitely been putting out some quality releases in the past year and this is a fine little number to add to your Seattle hip hop collection. Destro Destructo is more commonly known as one half of the Rhymesayers-signed group Boom Bap Project, who are part of Oldominion and have a couple of solid albums under their belt. This "Working Progress" EP is meant as a prelude to Destro's full length solo album "Ill.ustrated," which is due to drop some time in 2011. The EP features some production by Peegee13, as well as a strong guest verse from the seldom-heard Anaxagorus (also of Oldominon). You can download the EP for free over at the Vinyl Fluid Records Bandcamp Page, or you can stream it below of you wanna hear it MP-free.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Aesop Rock Produces the Blues

The Latest Greatest, 1/16/11

New song from Murs from his upcoming "Varsity Blues 2" project, which is apparently produced entirely by Aesop Rock. Should take this opportunity to note that the original "Varsity Blues" EP that Murs put out in 2002 was my shit. I picked it up from him when he was touring with Atmosphere and Blueprint and credit that album as my main introduction to Murs' music. Always interesting to hear what direction Aesop Rock is takin' these days, will certainly wanna listen to this when it drops.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Not Like Them Other Villainous Empires

The Latest Greatest, 1/12/11

New album by Chillin Villain Empire, "Not Like Those," out right now and available for sale via Access Hip Hop (on CDR) or through various digital outlets. Riddlore? and Nga Fish are some insanely talented mo'fos who've been repping LA's Project Blowed collective for a couple decades now, but their albums tend to be a little on the sloppy side so I'm reserving my judgment on this one for now. Would be interested in hearing it though... there are snippets available to listen to over here.

Edit: Looks like Nga Fish and Mighty Joe Young(?) of CVE both just dropped solo albums too, which makes me extra-skeptical of the quality of this release! Still wanna give it a proper listen though.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


The Latest Greatest, 1/11/11

INTRUDER from Isaiah Toothtaker on Vimeo.

New album from Isaiah Toothtaker of Mestizo's Machina Muerte collective, entitled "Illuminati Thug Mafia," dropping on January 25th via Machina Muerte/Alpha Pup. This is the first single from the album, "Intruder," and it's got some interesting stylings and a pretty cool hook to boot. Extra kudos to Mr. Toothtaker for incorporating footage from the film "I Drink Your Blood" into the video... that flick is awesome and well worth checking out!

Enter the Omni-Coloured Void

The Latest Greatest, 1/11/11

Do not adjust your computer monitor. The trippy waves you see above represent the album cover of Void Pedal's long-player "Omni-Colour," which is dropping on CD/LP/DL via Fieldwerk Recordings February 2011. If the quality of Void Pedal's self-titled EP is anything to go by (hint: check the Expanding the Backpack section for a free download), then this should be awesome. Hoping it will fill the current void - no pun intended - of solid instrumental hip hop releases out there.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Random Rap-Related 2010 Lists Pt. 2

The Lowdown, 1/8/11

Inspired by my pals Spensaur and Graceface, here are some of the funnest shows I saw in 2010:

1) P.O.S, Grieves & Budo, Dessa @ Bottom of the Hill

Greenhouse, Dez & Nobs, Timmy Wiggins, Cloud City @ LiPo Lounge

hold on from diane on Vimeo.

3) JFK, Insects, Black Mask, Outwitz, etc. @ Rockit Room

Moka Only & Factor, Ceschi, Open Mike Eagle, Kirby Dominant, etc. @ Elbo Room

Myka 9, Medusa, BPos, etc. @ Club 6

(unfortunately, I had to bounce early from this one and missed this collab. :( But Medusa was A-MA-ZING)

Doomtree & Rec League @ Slim’s

Daedelus, Nosaj Thing, Jogger @ Mighty

Qwel & Maker @ Farmer’s Block

Grouch, Brother Ali, Eligh @ New Parish

Amoebapalooza 2010 @ Stork Club

(No videos available of this one, as far as I know??? Butcher Cover and Swann Danger at First Church of the Buzzard was type epic as well)

Some other notable shows I attended last year:
Ecid, Noah23, Jordan Miche, Edison, Paulie Think, etc. @ Retox Room
Rec League, Grand Invincible, Dulok Shaman, Lodeck @ Red Devil Lounge
Luckyiam & Mestizo @ Club 6
Daedelus, Gaslamp Killer, 12th Planet & Teebs @ 1050 Folsom
Dark Time Sunshine, Void Pedal, Propaganda, Bru Lei @ Shattuck Downlow
Dark Time Sunshine, Jern Eye @ The Layover
Aceyalone & Sunspot Jonz @ Shattuck Downlow
Afro Classics, Understudies, etc. @ Blake's
Psalm One, Open Mike Eagle, League 510 @ Elbo Room
etc. , etc.

Was a pretty fun and eventful year for shows! Here's hoping for just as many in 2011. :)

Random Rap-Related 2010 Lists

The Lowdown, 1/1/11

Some favorite albums from 2010:

1) Dessa "A Badly Broken Code" (Doomtree)

Ani Difranco meets Jean Grae? Lauryn Hill meets Sage Francis? One of Doomtree's strongest releases to date, and arguably the strongest full length by a female MC I've ever heard.

2) Dark Time Sunshine "Vessel" (Fake Four)

Onry Ozzborn has been killing it on the vocal tip lately, and Zavala is one of the top producers of the moment. Together, they went and made some magic. Probably the best-produced album of 2010.

3) Qwel & Maker "Owl" (Galapagos4)

Some of the strongest work to date by all parties involved, which is no joke coming from a long-time Qwel fan. Gritty, heavy-hitting funk production vs. creative and relentlessly intelligent rapping.

4) Homeboy Sandman "The Good Sun" (High Water Music)

One of the most original voices to emerge from NY's underground in years. Fun, playful, highly stylized boom bap greatness. Super impressive body of work.

5) Dr. Oop "The Grateful Dread" (Blacklovemusic)

Hands down one of the most slept on rap releases of 2010. Oop Capone is an LA vet with years of experience under his belt, and he's perfected his mellow style of rapping here while keeping things extra sharp in the lyrics and content departments.

6) Factor "Lawson Graham" (Fake Four)

The sound of a skilled producer running with a concept and improving the sound of his music in the process. An excellent blend of folk and hip hop, with great contributions from a number of talented guest musicians.

7) Xperience "William the VIII" (Oldominion)

Another contender for "most slept on" from last year, this album has Xperience really showing off his talents as a rapper, singer, and producer. Self-released with next to zero promotion, distribution or marketing, this album is never the less a shining example of Xperience's talent and versatility. One of the most soulful Oldominion releases to date.

8) Broken Complex "Broken Complex" (Broken Complex)

The strongest rap group debut of 2010. Though many of the MCs have been touring and putting out solo albums under the radar for years, BC's collective debut really emphasizes the strengths of every artist in the crew. Rarely do so many unknown rappers stand out so distinctly on an album.

9) Soulcrate Music "The Heartland Panic" (Black Clover)

Some really fun, energetic, upbeat rap music from Sioux, South Dakota. The sound of this album brings to mind images of enthusiastic fans like me jumping up and down at live shows.

10) The Opus "Praying Mantis - Plus" (Indus)

Deserves a mention for being the strongest instrumental hip hop release of 2010, though it lacked much competition. A meditative, intricate and impressive return to music by this talented duo from Chicago.


Lots of other really dope releases this year as well:
Blue Sky Black Death "Third Party"
2Mex "My Fanbase Will Destroy You"
Mestizo "Elecholo"
Junk Science "A Miraculous Kind of Machine"
JFK "Building Wings on the Way Down"
Awol One & Ecid "Are..."
Thavius Beck "Dialogue"
Lazerbeak "Legend Recognize Legend"
A.R.M "Two Africans and a Jew"
Damu the Fudgemunk "How It Should Sound vol. 1 & 2"
The Let Go "Morning Comes"
Paper Tiger "Made Like Us"

Just to name a few. :) Was a great year for music.