Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November 2K11 in Hip Hop Terms

The Lowdown, 11/30/11

Playing a bit (read: a lot) of catch up here as per usual. October didn't really have that many stellar hip hop titles to offer, but November was pretty loaded with ill shit. Here are some of my picks o' the litter:

1) Doomtree - "No Kings" (Doomtree)

The second full length Doomtree release featuring every member of the crew is predictably solid, but not in the most predictable of ways. The two singles that leaked prior to the record dropping ("The Grand Experiment" and "Beacon") and the cover art had me a bit worried about whether DTR would deliver with this one, but I breathed a sigh relief as soon as the disc hit my stereo. The music on "No Kings" is not as immediately accessible as Doomtree's self-titled debut, and there aren't really as many standout songs as there were on the last one, but in some ways it feels like a more cohesive body of work. This album was apparently recorded over the course of a week-long retreat at a cabin in the woods, and a glance through the production credits reveals that most of the music was a collaborative effort between several of Doomtree's core beat-makers. So, what does the final product sound like? Envision a soundtrack for a rebellious group of punks in a futuristic world where gangs like theirs rule the streets (think "The Warriors"), and you won't be far off. This is a layered album meant to be played from beginning to end, but there are some anthems on it for sure. "Bangarang" has got the sort of focused Mictlan hook that's sure to get people chanting loudly at shows, "Team, the Best Team" features an interesting backdrop of Lazerbeak horns that grows on you with each listen, and Sims owns "Gimme the Go" along with every other song he's featured on on this album. "Little Mercy" showcases Cecil Otter's unique brand of lyricism and production skills extremely well, with a tight little Dessa verse thrown in the mix to compliment his style. My favorite track, "Bolt Cutter," features a beat that sways between hard-hitting electro vibes and delicate guitar strums, all topped off by an extra-catchy P.O.S punk hook.. I don't think this album's quite topping Doomtree's self-titled debut due to the sheer number of standout songs that joint had, but it's definitely one of the stronger and more challenging pieces of hip hop you're likely to hear in these last months of 2011. Check out the video for "Bolt Cutter" below, and lend this album your ears.

2) One Be Lo - "L.A.B.O.R" (Subterraneous)

One Be Lo's latest full-length album "L.A.B.O.R" ("Language Arts Based on Reality") is possibly my favorite One Be Lo release to date, not to mention one of the stronger traditional rap albums you're likely to hear this year. Apparently, the "L.A.B.O.R" acronym does not stand for "Loved Amongst Bloggers Of Rap," as I've seen this album largely hated on, ignored, or downright slept on by the indie rap internet hype machine. The publicity and fanfare for this album are so tiny, in fact, that there are major One Be Lo fans out there who aren't even aware that it exists. Boasting zero distribution and over 20 songs, I suppose one could mistake "L.A.B.O.R" for some of kind of One Be Lo mixtape, but that would be a grave error. This is a very cohesive and complete body of work. 100% new songs, segues and interludes, all tied together by a clever animal theme that One Be Lo applies creatively to a variety of off-beat topics. Granted, this album does have a couple of flaws... With 21 songs, it clocks in at 74 minutes, which is at least 14 minutes too long for any rap album. There are a couple of filler songs ("DESTINY (of the Phoenix)" in particular stands out like a sore thumb with its sub-par DJ Twelvs beat), plus too many interludes and sampled pieces of dialogue, an unnecessary intro skit, and even the occasional corny line or hook. But what makes "L.A.B.O.R" such an enjoyable listen is that despite all of this, One Be Lo simply belongs to a superior class of MCing. His voice, flow, cadence and rhymes are all straight-up immaculate even on the very worst of the songs on here, to the point where he can hold your attention on his own over the whole album without a single guest. That's no easy feat given the length of this beast (no animal pun intended). DWills handles the majority of the production and gives One Be Lo some extra solid boom bap to work with, with 14KT, Vitamin D, Nick Speed and Mike Posner all delivering great offerings as well. Scratches handled by DJ Abilities. Excellent stuff. You can stream the album in full via One Be Lo's Bandcamp Page below:

3) Señor Kaos - "The Kaos Effect" (High Water Music)

Very dope album from Atlanta MC and Binkis Recs affiliate Señor Kaos, presented by the always underrated High Water Music label out of NYC. My knowledge of Señor Kaos prior to this album was limited to a couple of guest spots he had on other High Water Music releases, which were decent but nothing that made me blink in amazement. This album, on the other hand, got some serious blink-age. Right from the get-go, "The Kaos Effect" seized my attention with the song "The Understanding," where Senor Kaos bears it all and impresses with his delivery over an extra dramatic banger from Illastrate. From there on out, we're treated to a number of solid tracks that could easily work as singles, with many songs highlighting Senor Kaos' effortless style and Illastrate's ill production chops. "Automatic Classic 2.0" finds Kaos dropping interesting lines left and right over a slow-moving Illastrate heater, "Restless" is smooth to the core with an admirable guest verse from J-Live, and "Did You Miss Me" features Binkis Recs in a lesson in lyrical beat-downs. Senor Kaos also knows how to get topical, with "Girls Rock Too" presenting an ode to women throughout history and "Spirit of Jax" offering an homage to his fallen Binkis homie of the same name. Great stuff, check out the super fun video for the song "No More" (produced by Marcotiks) below:

4) Big Quarters - "Party Like a Young Commie" (Lake City Browns)

Back in 2009, when Big Quarters dropped "From the Home of Brown Babies and White Mothers," I was completely sold on their material to the point where I deemed their album one of the sleepers of the year. Well, the follow-up from the duo of Brandon Allday and Medium Zach is finally here, and it's another impressive collection of songs with a seasonal Fall vibe that's sure to make you smile. The sound of"Party Like a Young Commie" is a lot different than the lo-fi excellence of their last one, with a more polished sound to the beats along with some strengthened hook writing. One listen to the live instrumentation of Medium Zach's instrumental "When the Head Connects to the Body" and it quickly becomes clear that these two are out to make some grown man rap music. That's not to say that they don't have a little fun with jams like "C'mon" and "Perfect Match," but the songwriting here is very mature and introspective for the most part. I'm always impressed by how Medium Zach and Brandon Allday manage to make their music sound so unique, as there's something very distinctive about the way they handle their verses and their choices of music. Lots of cool mellow vibes on this one, check out the backyard BBQ video for their song "Perfect Match" below:

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