Sunday, April 3, 2011

March 2K11 in Hip Hop Terms... Only in April

The Lowdown, 4/3/11

Yeah yeah, a couple days late. Happy belated April Fool's or somethin' everyone, that's my excuse and I'm sticking with it! Some dope and noteworthy indie rap releases from last month. I'll even make it four since this is appearin' late:

1) Noah23 "Fry Cook on Venus" (Fake Four)

The almighty Fake Four Inc. strikes once again with my favorite release of last month and their strongest release of 2011 to date. I've never really considered myself a huge fan of Noah23's music... I remember back when his album "Quicksand" came out in 2003, all of the underground rap heads were hyping it to me and somehow it just didn't click. I haven't really kept up with his numerous releases over the years, but this new album stands out as the best I've heard from him by a mile and is a massively impressive body of work. Noah really shows off his creativity as a rapper over the course of the album, penning extra catchy pop melodies and demonstrating a very versatile range of styles that keeps things interesting the whole way through. The production of the album, handled by a wide variety of talented beat-makers, is fantastic and feels united under a sort of spacey folk rock vibe. Another really ill thing about this project is that it feels like a Fake Four posse album, since Noah ropes in the vocal and production talents of a large part of the Fake Four roster. Ceschi and Myka 9 drop in to style it up with Noah on the chop-shop marathon "Sea of the Infinite Wave," which features all three MCs going ballistic over a spacey and progressive Skyrider beat. "Murder City" (playable below) features an extremely raw Ceschi organ beat that Awol One and Noah tear it up over, only to be up-staged by a hilariously witty and cynical verse from Sole. There's also "Bed Bugs," a gorgeous Factor-produced number that wouldn't have felt out of place as an A-side on "Lawson Graham," with Noah23's melodic stylings fitting the folk guitar beat to perfection. And I can't complete the review without mentioning the brilliant Liz Powell collabo "Nuts," which features Noah23 going all out indie rock on dat ass over an excellent Cars & Trains composition. Bottom line: this album is loaded with stand-out cuts and is very worth listening, even if you've never been a fan of Noah23's music. Listen to a tiny taste of it below:

2) Xczircles / Aamir "Swan Storm / The Quiet After the Storm" (Ooooh! That's Heavy!)

I haven't really followed the progression of the Escape Artists' music over the years, but they've occasionally caught a glance from me over the impressive West Coast MCs and producers that feature on their albums and the respect they command in certain indie rap circles. This new album of theirs is packaged as a double-disc with a full length solo album from both of the central members of the group, and for over two hours of music, they deliver the goods. Both Xzcircles and Aamir fall on the nerdier intellectual side of the hip hop spectrum and this is an awful lot of art rap to ingest in one sitting, but it's is a surprisingly solid body of work that demonstrates how the Escape Artists have sort of mastered their crafts. Neither Xczircles nor Aamir stand out particularly well as rappers to me, with Xzcircles' more aggressive cadence appealing to me slightly more than Aamir's quieter style, but they both have a good grasp of song structure and an excellent taste in atmospheric production. One of the ways in which both of these albums succeed is in the dark and mysterious atmosphere that the beats evoke throughout them, with plenty of tinkling pianos and lonely jazz horns setting the stage for Xzcircles and Aamir's thought-provoking lyrics. Another way in which this project succeeds is through its cast of guests, which is one of the most impressive line-ups of West Coast talent I've seen on a single (well, double) album in ages. Aceyalone, Myka 9, Eligh, Scarub, 2Mex, Ellay Khule, Ceschi, Awol One, Riddlore, Bigg Jus, K-the-I???, Mike Ladd, Jizzm, Joe Dub (on the producto, delivering the only funky-ass beat on either album, and it's a banger!), Thesis Sahib, etc. Let's face it, you've been fiendin' to hear a lot of these guys over some dark Omid-style production again for a minute, well here's your chance. Pretty much every guest delivers, but I've got to give a special tip of the hat to Bigg Jus, whose verse on "City of Lights" is pretty much the best verse on either album and runs the risk of rendering the other dope verses on that particular posse cut irrelevant. Some ill hip hop through and through, sample tracks from each album below:

Xczircles "Ate Up (featuring Ellay Khule)":

Aamir "The Quiet After the Storm (Xczircles Remix) (featuring Scarub, Flux & Generous)":

3) The Expanders "The Expanders" (Broken Complex)

Nothing to do with rap music at all here really, just some real dope feel-good Reggae vibes that act as a great prelude to the Summer. The Expanders are a reggae band consisting of Man-Like-Devin, John Butcher, Chiquis Lozoya and Luis Chuquillanqui. I'm guessing that operate out of Southern California, because they're homies of DJ Hoppa, the man responsible for Broken Complex's impressive self-titled debut last year and many other hip hop projects prior to that. The music of The Expanders sounds very traditional, but there's something about the uplifting harmonies and positive vibrations here that makes this stand out as a cohesive body of work. Maybe I just don't have enough reggae in my life right now or maybe I'm just fiending for the Summer season, but this definitely has a spot in my currdnt rotation. Especially "Merciless Deeds" and "Turtle Racing" back-to-back, them songs is weeicked man. You can streams the whole thing below, just make sure you throw down and purchase it if you're diggin' it, yah?

4) Himself "Feel Like a Star" (Permanent Records)

An honorable mention goes out to Himself's new album "Feel Like a Star," which continues his tradition of crafting very honest and humble hip hop albums. Himself's record with Anacron and Murs as the Netherworlds has remained one of my favorite Murs projects since it first dropped, and though he hasn't received the attention that his two rapper buddies have been showered with, he clearly has his own voice as a rapper and is making music from the heart. "Feel Like a Star" carries a very lo-fi, homemade quality to it that adds to its charm, and though not every song on it is a hit, the album as a whole feels like a pretty complete body of work. Worth a listen for sure. Order it from Access and it comes with a free star-shaped stress ball as well! Sample song featuring Scarub below:

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