Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 2K11 in Hip Hop Terms

The Lowdown, 12/31/11

No, this ain't a "10 Best Albums of 2011" list (I might try and scavenge one of those together in January), just a list of dope albums that dropped in the December-ish time frame. Easy to overlook ill releases when you're busy trying to come up with favorites for a span of 12 months, so here's some recent quality rap musics to check for:

1) Moka Only & Chief - "Crickets" (Feelin' Music)

Not 100% sure if this album officially dropped in December or if it was more like November (or earlier in Europe), but it definitely deserves a mention as one of 2011's sleeper albums and got more rotation than any other album I picked up during the holiday season. Moka Only puts out an awful lot of music and not much of it manages to grab my attention, but with the help of Chief he's delivered what is arguably the strongest album of his prolific career. Moka handles himself very well over the course of the album, with his relaxed stream-of-conscious flow and pop-driven hooks doing each song justice. But Chief is definitely the star of the show here. From the perfectly layered pianos of "For Always" and "If You Want It" to the mellow guitar loops of "Relief," Chief's intricate psychedelic jazz production makes this project sound downright amazing. I remember being a fan of some of Chief's past albums, but he's never quite impressed me to this degree and the pairing with Moka Only provides some good chemistry. The whole album has a really nice open jazz vibe to it, with both Moka's vocals and Chief's beats moving in interesting free-flowing directions. The little instrumental interludes between songs are a very nice touch and really add to the atmosphere as well. Unfortunately, the CD of "Crickets" is only available as an import and tends to run in the 18-plus dollar range regardless of who you buy it from, but it's well worth the extra money spent. Stream the album in full below, and see for yourself:

2) Thirsty Fish - "Watergate" (Mush)

How lucky are we to be blessed with two full-length Open Mike Eagle projects in one year? To be fair, Open Mike Eagle only represents one-third of the group Thirsty Fish, which also boasts the likes of new school Project Blowdians Dumbfoundead and Psychosiz. This album was released digitally back in May, but finally got the proper CD treatment in December... still counting it in this list since I waited on the CD before giving it a proper listen. The sounds of "Watergate" are quite crazy, and by crazy I mean off-the-deep-end insane. These dudes are going all-out on the bizarre styles tip, repping their Los Angeles heritage to the fullest with some truly weird flows and creative concepts. The beats are largely challenging electronic affairs provided by an assembly of ultra talented beat-makers, including Daedelus, Tokimonsta and Exile. Lots of great moments abound, but some stand-out songs include the style-by-the-dozen marathon of "Antique Blowed Show" and the drunken Busdriver cameo-laced "Grind It Out." My personal favorite track, "Ducks Fail," offers up a reinterpretation of the "Duck Tales" theme song along with some very clever mallard-intensive lyrics. Lots of points for originality with these three, peep the song "Working the Numbers" below:

Working The Numbers

3) K-Def "Nightshift" (Redefinition)

2011 saw the expansion of Damu the Fudgemunk's awesome Redefinition Records label, which reached beyond Damu's beats to tap into the catalogs of some very talented and underrated hip hop producers. While Kaimbr & Kev Brown's "Al Green Project" and Grap Luva's "Neva Done" got a decent amount of attention, it seems like K-Def's recent album quietly slipped under people's radars... appropriate given the night motif of the cover and the title I suppose. Sleeping should be highly discouraged, however, since this album is damn fine collection of jazzy mood-driven beats that blend live instrumentation seamlessly with sampling. The entire album sounds like music that could be played through the wee hours of the morning, and the nocturnal vibes blend together into a very cohesive body of work. Nice little instro joint with a few chill vocal contributions and an obscure old school LL Cool J number thrown in as a bonus cut. Check out the track "Supa Heath" below:

K-Def - Supa Heath (LP Version) by Redefinition Records

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Various Artists (Acid Lab Records) "ALR Elite"

Expanding the Backpack, 12/25/11

Caution: contents of Acid Lab Record gifts are highly flammable and should only be opened with goggles and a pair of radiation proof gloves. This new free compilation from Gajah and BeOND's Acid Lab label is actually one of the strongest legally free albums you're likely to download this year. The free EPs that Gajah put out earlier in 2011 were good, but this project feels a lot stronger and more cohesive, showcasing some impressive verses and grimy beats from Acid Reign and their extended fam. If you were a fan of Acid Reign's "Diversity" album earlier this year, then you definitely need to give this album a listen, as it sounds like a natural extension of the sound they were aiming for on "Diversity" only with more impressive stylistic MCs involved. Excellent tracks from BeOND and Olmeca, some really good stuff from Gajah and Express Fresh... the only dude on here who doesn't have me completely convinced is Damien Rodriguez, but even his songs are decent. This project feels less like a compilation and more like a complete crew album, and I can that it's one of the few free albums that's gonna get some fairly regular rotation from me in these last days of 2011 and beyond. Excellent artwork by the super talented Albane as well. If you're a fan of LA chop-shop styles, don't miss this one! Download it at the Acid Lab Records Bandcamp Page or stream it in full below:

1. Acid Reign - "Wake Up!"
2. Express Fresh - "You'll Never Beat Us (feat. BeOND)"
3. Olmeca - "En Pie De Lucha"
4. BeOND - "My Way"
5. Damien Rodriguez - "OccuPIE"
6. Gajah - "Sucka MC Diet"
7. Express Fresh - "Resilient Son"
8. Olmeca - "Remember Your Foundation"
9. Gajah - "Walk"
10. Damien Rodriguez - "Faceless"
11. BeOND - "Silence is Golden"
12. Express Fresh - "Outside"
13. BeOND - "Quick Rip"
14. Gajah - "Penny Pinchers (feat. Express Fresh)"
15. Gajah - "Black Knight"
16. BeOND & Destruct - "Travelin' (feat. Gajah)"
17. DJ Ethos - "ALR Elite Medley"

John Robinson "Gifted"

Expanding the Backpack, 12/25/11

New free album from Scienz of Life frontman and frequent MF Doom collaborator John Robinson, entitled "Gifted." John Robinson has a super dope voice and has always been kind of underrated as an MC, plus he always collabs with top notch producers and brings some interesting lyrics and content to the table. This free "Gifted" album is John Robinson's holiday gift to the masses, and features Flying Lotus, J Dilla, Ta'Raach, and I.D 4 Windz handling the beats amongst others. This project is unmixed and is mostly a collection of unreleased songs and B-sides from Mr. Robinson, but it still features some ill rhymes and beats, particularly the tracks "Her" and "Dap." I also gotta say that hearing John Robinson and Wordsworth go back and forth on "Cherish" makes me long to hear more collabs between those two. Their voices definitely compliment each other. You can download "Gifted" for free over at John Robinson's Bandcamp Page, or stream it in full below:

1. Her (produced by IG Culture)
2. Freestyle @ Lotus Crib (produced by Flying Lotus)
3. A.T.R (Annette Tijuana Robinson) (produced by ID 4 Windz)
4. C.U (produced by Ta'Raach)
5. Why'd You Lie? (produced by R'thentic)
6. Cherish (feat. Wordsworth) (produced by K.Dubble)
7. Heavenly (feat. Invizible Handz & Tiffany Paige) (produced by J Dilla)
8. Dap (feat. Farrah Burns) (produced by Flying Lotus)
9. On the Road Again (produced by ID 4 Windz)
10. Rap Thing (produced by Flying Lotus)
11. Ordo Ab Chao (produced by J Dilla)
12. Makings of U (IG Culture Remix) (produced by IG Culture)
13. UK (feat. Cymarshall Law & K Banger) (produced by ID 4 Windz)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Movie Monsters in Holographic Technicolor

The Latest Greatest, 12/20/11

Get your interactive 3D monster madness goggles ready. Ecid's new full length, "Werewolf Hologram," is gonna be dropping February 28th 2012 on Ecid's own Fill in the Break's label. Ecid is one of those rappers/producers that kind of snuck up on me through his work with Awol One, which impressed me enough to get me digging through his extensive back catalog. His dense conceptual lyricism and layered production make for albums that can be revisited months later and still retain some replay value. His last solo full length was produced by Arsenic and took a slightly more traditional approach to the hip hop genre, but this new one seems to be harkening back to Ecid's high-concept self-produced projects like "Red Beretta." Very eager to hear the direction that Ecid's production is taking on this one, I feel like he's one of those artists that gets a little better with every new release. Tracklisting and music video below, limited deluxe pre-order packages for CD and LP pressings of the album available on Ecid's Bandcamp Page. With this, Bleubird's "Cannonball!!!" and Busdriver's "Beaus$Eros" all dropping at the beginning of next year, it looks like the first quarter of 2012 is going to be dominated by the more cerebral side of the hip hop spectrum. Viva la nerd rap!

1. Werewolf Hologram
2. Men Kill Men
3. I Heart Gravity
4. The Pursuit of Everything In Between
5. Go High Lion
6. Boo Boo
7. Incredible
8. Oh Well
9. Marching On
11. So Damn Einstein!
12. The Future is Free (feat. David Mars & Leif(Kolt))
13. Rock Stars Don't Apologize (feat. Awol One, Kristoff Krane & Eyedea)
14. Back From Japan
15. Surprise Yourself
16. So Much Fire

Monday, December 12, 2011

Qwazaar & Batsauce, Lady Daisey, Ro Knew with Mic Logik, and FeGo at Club 6, SF

View From the Front Row, 12/13/11

A few nights ago, I went to Qwazaar & Batsauce's Cali tour stop at Club 6 in San Francisco. I'd originally intended to check out their performance at Maleko's "FRESH" #5 in Half Moon Bay the night before, but decided to go to this show instead due to it being a much shorter driving distance from where I live. Club 6 is nowhere near as cool a venue as HMB's Old Princeton Landing and Maleko's "FRESH" series has been quality since day one, but sometimes a convenient location is just a convenient location. This Qwazaar & Batsauce show in SF coincided with a release party for Bay area rapper Ro Knew's new album "Fool's Wisdom," which ended up dividing the evening into two very different kinds of shows. Much respect to all of the people involved in this event since I know it takes a lot of connections and effort to set these kinds of things up, but the two shows here were a pretty much like fire and ice to me, and I think it's worth covering that disparity here.

FeGo was the first act to take the stage, and he was just plain awful. Granted, it seemed like this was one of FeGo's first times on stage and I even think he mentioned something about this being his first performance in San Francisco, but never the less it was a clear case of him needing more practice on the mic before pulling off a proper set. FeGo was extremely nervous on stage, to the point where it made him blank on entire verses from his songs and retreat to his laptop to cut the tracks short. He repeatedly begged for rappers in the small crowd to join him on stage to boost his confidence, even pointing towards me in the hopes of me being a rapper in disguise, which was pretty sad. The few verses that FeGo did manage to pull off were nothing special, but the worst part of his set came when he paused the music and had his friend Camera (Carmela? Something along those lines) get on stage to do an acapella number. Her acapella singing was shrill and off-key, her pseudo spoken word follow-up had no passion or interesting lyrics, and there was no musical accompaniment to camouflage her amateur performance. It lasted for at least 5 minutes, and I felt almost embarrassed to be watching it from the front row. On the off-chance that FeGo and Camera come across this review: keep grinding at your respective crafts, but your live set needs some work.

Ro Knew was the next performer of the night, with his friend Mic Logik from Chicago backing him up as a special guest. Their set was not good, and unlike FeGo and Camera, they didn't have as much of an excuse for the bland music and lackluster stage presence. Ro Knew has been putting out solo and group albums since the earlier part of the 21rst century, so you'd figure that dude would have all the elements of a banging live show down flat by this point. But his set felt like it was played by-the-numbers, without much of the enthusiasm I would have expected from an MC promoting a brand new album. I think that perhaps Ro Knew was a little stressed that Qwazaar and Batsauce hadn't arrived at the venue yet, and was stalling for time while realizing that his set was going on too long. I give Mic Logik credit for seeming passionate enough during his verses on the Division One songs that he and Ro Knew performed, though the combo of the two of them on stage looked like it could have been a father and son rapping together. Strange observation, but one that stands out in my memory for some reason. By the end of Ro Knew and Mic Logik's performance, I had kind of tuned out their show and was paying more attention to the various people in the crowd and their reactions to it. Not a good sign when I'm standing in the front row and you lose my attention, sorry guys!

At this point in the night, I was a little unhappy with the way things were panning out and was fearing a major let-down of a show. But as soon as Batsauce set up his laptop on stage and started plugging out funky beats on his production equipment, things took a very major turn for the better. Batsauce single-handedly worked his magic on the vibe of Club 6, flipping it into a fun party atmosphere and seriously heightening my appreciation for him as a producer. I don't think I've ever witnessed a beat-maker improve the entire atmosphere of an event so effortlessly, and this was before any formal set of his had even taken place. Needless to say, my mood was greatly improved.

Lady Daisey, a soul singer who frequently collabs with Batsauce and who's also his wife, was the first to join the producer on stage for a set. She completely floored me with an awesome performance that I can safely say was one of the funnest times I had at a show in 2011. Lady Daisey's vibrant and energetic singing worked wonders with Batsauce's funky uptempo beats, to the point where the dynamite combo actually managed to transform the all too self-conscious Club 6 into a miniature dance floor. I don't know if Daisey and Batsauce are aware of how huge an accomplishment that is, but generally Club 6 draws crowds that sulk in darkened corners regardless of how great the performer is. I've never seen such a significant chunk of the crowd have such a great time at that venue, and the awesome quality of the singing and music made it easy for folks to drop their worries and get loose. Beyond being an excellent singer backed by excellent beats, Lady Daisey was also a pleasure to watch on stage. She was brimming with positive energy and had an upbeat personality that translated well into her fun style of singing. She was also clearly having a great time on stage, and seeing her have so much fun performing just made it that much easier for other people to have a great time. Batsauce was a pro at backing up Lady Daisey on the music side of things, knowing exactly when to contribute background vocals and keeping things extra raw and soulful behind the boards. By the time Lady Daisey and Batsauce were done with their set, I was sweating like crazy from dancing so much in the front. It was a really terrific and fun set that left me feeling elated.

I was very excited to see Qwazaar and Batsauce play as the evening's headliner, and they did not disappoint in the slightest. I've seen Qwazaar play live in a number of groups over the years including Typical Cats, Outerlimitz, and Dirty Digital, and the man tends to impress with his distinctive voice and impeccable flows. The only time prior to this that I saw him rock the mic solo was at a Galapagos4 Christmas show at Elbo Room back in 2006, but I seem to remember that being a sloppy and disappointing set. Qwazaar's new material with Batsauce is the strongest stuff he's ever worked on, however, and the new songs translated super well to a live setting. They played a bunch of tracks from their "Bat Meets Blaine" album (one of the best hip hop releases of 2011) and their "Style Be the King EP" (also excellent), with the rapper and producer both holding their own on stage and delivering what the hungry fans like me wanted to hear. The vibe of the set ended up being darker and more aggressive than Lady Daisey's show, but it fit Qwa's style well and offered up some really killer renditions of joints like "To the Death" and "Style Be the King." Some other standouts included the intricate flows and reflective lyrics of "I'm Gone," the pounding horns and uptempo hook of "Power," and the relaxing vibes of "Surrealism" which brought Lady Daisey back out to sing the refrain. Qwazaar's voice and flow have never sounded better, and he got rowdy over the course of the set, racing around the crowd and singling out people to deliver his complex verses to. The finale of "Shake" had Qwazaar practically moshing through Club 6 and ended the evening on a high note. A very impressive set that lived up to lofty expectations.

So despite the questionable first half of the evening, this ended up being a super fun and awesome show that I'm very happy I attended. Should Batsauce and his talented friends decide to revisit the Bay area, I'll be there... Same Batshow, same Batchannel. A little live footage to give you a taste of the evening below:

One of the calmer moments of Lady Daisey's set:

Qwazaar & Batsauce "To the Death" live:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


The Latest Greatest, 12/7/11

New album from perpetual road warrior rapper Bleubird, entitled "Cannonball!!!," dropping January 24th 2012 on Fake Four Inc. Bleubird's been putting out some really interesting avant-rap music for a minute now, both as a solo artist and through collaborations with similar-minded hip hoppers like Sole, Astronautalis, Thesis Sahib and Edison. I had a chance to see him live and chill with him in his RV van back in June, and his charisma and entertaining personality definitely boosted my appreciation for his music. He's clearly someone who's meant to be an entertainer in the music industry... hell, he could probably be a stand-up comedian or motivational speaker if hip hop didn't own his heart. Anyway, his new album "Cannonball!!!" is co-produced by Radical Face and Astronautalis, and the leaked songs I've heard from it have been pretty stellar. Definitely excited to see how this one turns out, glad to see Fake Four behind yet another talented artist. Awesome snake bite cover art above, promo videos below:

"Giehe 1977"

"Christian Wife"