Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 2K11 in Hip Hop Terms

The Lowdown, 6/29/11

A ton of great music this month. I've been swamped in ill beats and rhymes, with one album after another trying to scratch its way up to the top of my current rotation. Impossible to write a thorough review for all of them and harder still to pick which ones merit the most attention, but these're amongst the top of the pile for me:

1) Gel Roc & Xczircles "Beautiful Tragedy" (Abolano Records)

My vote for the best hip hop release in June 2011's colossal line-up is Gel Roc & Xczircles new collaboration "Beautiful Tragedy," which stands out as some of the strongest material by all parties involved and is one of the most solid pieces of underground West Coast hip hop you're likely to hear this year. Gel Roc has been holding it down in the Cali underground circuit for years as a member of EX2 as well as a solo artist, and has appeared on many a respected LA rappers' album (ask around). Xczircles has a similar track record as a member of the mysterious abstract Cali group Escape Artists, and has a fair share of dope solo projects under his belt such as his underrated instrumental album "The Purge" and recent split solo effort with Aamir "Swan Storm / The Quiet Before the Storm." The combined forces of Gel Roc and Xczircles have resulted in an album that truly deviates from the norm, and sounds like nothing else out there right now. On a first listen through "Beautiful Tragedy," I was caught off-guard by how unusual most of it sounded. A lot of the album has a spoken word-ish quality to it, with very strange minimal beats that incorporate experimental jazz horns and have a dark, brooding atmosphere. Gel Roc holds his own over the course of the album, but also gets help from a number of the LA underground's finest MCs, who make some very significant contributions to the mix. Awol One's gruff vocals and drug raps fit the raw mix of "Buzzin Cuzzins" well, Abstract Rude delivers some memorable verses over the traditional boom bap of the title track "Beautiful Tragedy," and Ecid stands out with his impressive lyrics and cadence on "Corporate Indecline." The album reaches its grand finale with the epic posse cut "Tragic Poetry," where no less than 15 notable stylistic spitters drop some seriously ill verses. Hard to cherry pick the highlights of this song, but the segment where Lord Zen, Kail, Neila and Zagu Brown murder it one after another holds a special spot in my heart. The verses from Longevity and Open Mike Eagle on that song are no joke either. The only minor problem with this album might be it's 74 minute length, which is long for any album, but then again it's hard to come up with a weak track to drop from here. A massive experimental opus that should not be missed! Listen to the title track below:

2) Co$$ "Before I Awoke" (Tres)

On the other end of Los Angeles' bubbling underground circuit is Co$$'s debut album "Before I Awoke," which somehow manages to rep Leimert Park to the fullest without associating itself to Project Blowed. While Co$$'s singles left me skeptical as to whether I'd want to listen to an entire album of him rapping, I've got to tip my hat here and say that "Before I Awoke" is one hell of a solid body of work. The entire album succeeds in the way that it flaunts its left-coast atmosphere with pride, pitting Co$$'s smooth vocals over a variety of interesting instrumentals that veer from dope jazz breaks to more gutter electro productions. Though the moods of the songs differ from track to track, it's the unified West Coast vibe of this album that makes it such an enjoyable listen, and fans of Blu and Exile (both of whom appear on this, along with Aloe Blacc and Sene) will find a lot to smile and nod their head to here. Co$$'s voice and flow are often more interesting to examine and listen to than his lyrics, though he does cover a couple of interesting topics on the album and goes into an anti-organized religion tirade on the last few songs. The only problem with "Before I Awoke" is that, much like Gel Roc's album, it clocks in at 74 minutes and probably could have used a bit of trimming (the 3 bonus songs could have definitely been dropped, for example). Still, this is a great chill West Coast hip hop album that's be getting some serious spins throughout the Summer. Listen to "In the Wind" for a taste of the vibes that Co$$ is bringin' below:

3) Acid Reign "Diversity" (Uncommon)

Some real excellent stylings from BeOnd and Gajah on their new album "Diversity," which stands out as one of the grimiest and strongest Acid Reign recordings to date. The eclectic arrangement of different sounds and producers on this project looks like a mess on paper, but it really comes together in the way that Gajah and BeOnd use the diversity of the beats to flip tons of interesting styles and awesome concepts. It's pretty much a given that these dudes can rap their asses off if you've ever listened to their music or seen them live, but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of sick lyrics and concepts that Acid Reign drop on this one. "Fantastic 4" has the duo teaming up with Neila and Myka 9 to kick some intergalactic superhero raps, with each adopting the personality of one of the 4, while "Devil's Talk" has BeOnd and Gajah talking themselves out of making deals with the Devil. Elsewhere, songs like "Total Control" and the title cut "Diversity" are more grounded in reality, dealing with the importance of having control over one's life and the diversity of people respectively. One thing I'm disappointed about in this album is the way that Uncommon Records handled the packaging... you'd think that Acid Reign would be one of Uncommon's flagship artists given the roster, and that they'd merit more than a CDR in a slipcase with a giant Uncommon Records logo crowding the CD sticker. Having said that, the cover is dope, as is the music. Check out the "Creme de la Blowed" posse cut featuring Nga Fsh, Aceyalone, Rifleman, Olmeca, Abstract Rude and Myka 9 below:

4) K-the-I??? "Synesthesia" (Fake Four Inc.)

The latest album from K-the-I??? is possibly his most daring and abrasive piece of work to date, which is no joke considering how daring and abrasive Kiki's albums tend to me. I've mainly come to know K-the-I??? for his aggressive off-beat style of rapping, but he doesn't utter a word on this album and strictly sticks to crafting complex beats that sound like a bunch of musical genres pounded to a pulp through button-mashing madness. I've always gotten the sense that K-the-I??? has rapped his verses in a way that deliberately pulls people out of their comfort zones, and I get a similar sense of K-the-I??? as a producer. His ear leans towards the unusual and unsettling end of the music spectrum, and the stuttering blend of musical styles on "Synesthesia" feels unified under his strange outlook on beats. One of the stranger and stronger Fake Four instrumental projects to date. You can hear "Moonwalking on Venticular Clouds" below:

K-The-I??? "Moon Walking On Lenticular Clouds" by Fake Four, Inc.

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