Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February 2K12 in Hip Hop Terms

The Lowdown, 2/29/12

Some amazing new releases in February. Here are a few of the major highlights:

1) Ecid - "Werewolf Hologram" (Fill in the Breaks)

Ecid's new album is not only his finest work to date, it's also one of the best pieces of music to emerge from any hip hop artist in recent months and is destined for a solid spot amongst my favorite albums of 2012. I've liked some of Ecid's music in the past, and his albums have tended to grow on me with repeated listens, but this new one is the first of his works that completely kicked my ass from the get-go and kept getting better from there. Even with its holographic motifs, everything about this album is solid as hell. For starters, Ecid stepped his rapping game up in a major way for this full length, with a more mature and confident delivery that works better with his voice and flow. The constant barrages of words found on previous albums have simmered down to something calmer and more devious, giving his verses more room to breath and allowing for a more diverse range of styles. Lyrics have always been one of Ecid's strong suites and nothing's changed in that regard, with top-notch writing covering topics like suicide ("Oh Well"), alien intelligence ("So Damn Einstein!"), frustated graff heads ("WOOLF") and the internet era ("The Future is Free"). Ecid also knows how to string words together in impressive ways, often crafting immaculate and unpredictable flows that shine on tracks like "Marching On" and "I Heart Gravity." Meanwhile, on the production side of things, Ecid delivers an incredible futuristic soundscape that conveys a variety of moods and establishes him as a producer to be reckoned with. The beats often start simple and are built into something very detailed and elaborate as the tracks progress, with sampled notes broken down into tiny fragments and new exciting twists around every corner. A simple and effective bassline suddenly explodes with beautiful layers of sampled guitars on "The Pursuit of Everything in Between," and the gradual layering of sounds on "Go High Lion" makes you feel like you're there in the studio with Ecid as he chooses every tiny note. The music has a sound reminiscent of El-P or Lazerbeak in its noisy and often futuristic qualities, but is more minimal in its approach and is distinctly Ecid's. A really enjoyable listen from start to finish that will likely convert you to the cause of lycanthropy. Watch the awesome video for the track "Back From Japan" below:

2) Lazerbeak & Edison "Kill Switch" (Fieldwerk)

Fieldwerk Records keeps picking the winners with this fourth installment of their split producer series, which once again draws from the A-list of indie hip hop's beatmaking talent to bring you some of the finest instrumental hip hop available today. This entry is their most exciting to date, boasting Doomtree's Lazerbeak on side A and San Francisco tech genius Edison on side B. Both of these fellows are phenomenal producers, and both of them do justice to their respective sides of the record. Lazerbeak's entry is peaceful and downtempo with bright and colorful flourishes, blending together elements of rock, electronic and pop music into a melting pot of hip hop production that feels emotionally charged. His tracks on this have a tremendous amount of depth that puts the "Lavabangers" beat tape he released in January to shame, standing out as a collection of fully fleshed-out instrumental songs. I would kill the switch to hear a full length album of stand alone Lazerbeak numbers like these! Edison, who puts on one of the best live instrumental hip hop shows I've seen, handles side B with a louder and more menacing approach that features lots of excellent manipulations of sound. Angry guitars duel it out with abrasive drums and eery chopped-up electronic sounds, all twisted and stuttered out of Edison's magic blinking button machine. This side is more unified in sound than Lazerbeak's side and feels like one extended song, though both sides offer something very unique and convey the personality of their respective producers. It also feels like these two belonged on different sides of the same record, as they compliment each other's styles here. Terrific stuff, stream one of Edison's songs "A Cure for the Case of the Wealthies" below:

3) Maxilla Blue "Volume 3" (Galapagos4)

The third self-titled group effort from this Des Moines trio shows off their straight-forward and effective brand of hip hop music well. The beauty of the group's music lies in it's simplicity, which is not to say that the production, MCing or DJing here are quite predictable. Aeon Grey's jazz and funk-laced production is very smooth and never feels too busy, which gives rapper Asphate Woodhavet room to breath and flex his fluid spoken word style flows. Add in some nice scratches from DJ Touchnice you get an album that feels very traditional in tone and gets its honest hip hop vibes across well. Lots of cool jams on here, with the dark street hustling vibes of "Retrogression" and the light hypnotic keyboards of "Lego Blocks" registering as personal favorites. Check out the extra smooth track "Perfect Mal-F" from the album below:

4) James Barrie "Sons of Mammon" (Los Feo Faces/Grimm Image)

Los Feo Faces are perhaps one of the most puzzling hip hop crews out there when it comes to business ethics, as they drop albums haphazardly with zero promotion and expect them to somehow register on people's radars. Stranger still is the fact that some of these projects are genuinely dope, including this new EP from Los Feo frontman James Barrie aka Nabahe. The "THANK YOUS" section of the liner notes of this album consists of the sentence "To all you haters, fuck you, fuck every one," which suggests that James Barrie ain't building any new bridges with this EP, but it's hard to hate on him when he's got a distinct voice and flow plus some interesting bugged out lyrics. James Barrie gathers a number of talented hip hop acquaintances to help out with this project, including the highly underrated Smoke of Oldominion, who does a terrific job producing the majority of the songs on this EP. Smoke's beats here are dark, minimal and very effective, with well-placed live instrumentation and even the occasional drum and bass breakdown to compliment the experimental styles of MCing. Open Mike Eagle, 2Mex, Xololanxinxo, K-the-I??? and Kosha Dillz all show up and drop verses worthy of their reputations, while newcomers C-Cost and James Vega kill it with their respective guest spots as well. The only MC who fails to deliver is Pigpen, who adds nothing to the otherwise terrific "Harp Music." "Sons of Mammon" is destined to be truly slept on, but is definitely worth digging up if you can find it. Stream "Verbal Spears Nephew's Posse Cut (Blood Eye)" featuring Everybody Knows, 2Mex, Xololanxinxo, K-the-I??? and James Vega below:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Edison "The Full Mustafa"

Expanding the Backpack, 2/27/12

Adding to this year's already stellar line-up of free releases is this new collection of beats from one of San Francisco's most talented producers, Edison. This button-mashing tech wiz has produced for the likes of Aesop Rock and Bleubird amongst others, and just recently released a split LP with Doomtree's Lazerbeak on Fieldwerk Records. Plus, the man can rock his beats live like it's nobody's business. This free full length instrumental hip hop album is dubbed by Edison as "shit your uncle hippy wished he had heard while he was ripping tubes," and the mysteries abound. Why are there no song titles? In what order are the tracks meant to be listened to? What is that chicken doing on the cover? Who IS the "beastmaster"? And how in the name of God can music so free sound so banging? One thing's for sure - you beat fiends need to download this album with a quickness over at 900 Bats and take note. Possible tracklisting(?) below:

1. before20
2. double zero
3. eighteen (feat. beastmaster)
4. o-3
5. o... eight
6. oh one (feat. EVAK1)
7. one zero
8. one7
9. onetwo
10. six
11. zero four
12. zero7
13. 009
14. 05
15. 0two
16. 15
17. 1four
18. 1three
19. 20

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Buck 65, Busdriver and Kristoff Krane at Slim's, SF

View From the Front Row, 2/21/12

Due to a mix of work, procrastination and a broken shutter button on my digital camera, I've been neglecting the View From the Front Row a bit this month. I failed to write a review of the excellent Doomtree and 2Mex show I saw at Slim's earlier in February, and while I've written plenty of reviews for Doomtree and 2Mex shows in the past (or at least that's how the excuse goes in my head), it was definitely one of the better Doomtree shows I've been to in a minute and it was great to see both acts in the same line-up. That show featured some raw new party jams from Pissed Off Stef that had fools wylin' out, one of the best "Dixon's Girl" performances I've seen to date, Sims pole-dancing and crowd-diving, plus plenty of newly converted 2Mex fans. But that ain't the show that's up for review today.

Nope. While the Doomtree and 2Mex gig was a damn fine night of merriment, this Buck 65 show was possibly the best show I've ever been to at Slim's. Granted, I haven't generally been that big a fan of Slim's as a venue... the all-ages bit gets old to me quick, the atmosphere is a little large-scale for my taste, and the staff has been a bit on the bitchy side at times. But this show was honestly enough to give me a new-found appreciation for the SF venue. There was a good turn-out of people for Buck 65 and Busdriver, but it somehow felt more closely knit and intimate than the Doomtree show, with every act in the line-up delivering something special with their set.

Minnesota's Kristoff Krane was the first act to perform in the line-up, and he came prepared with an entertaining set that featured a number of clever tricks and a strong connection with the crowd. He was fresh off a tour opening for Sage Francis, and mentioned how honored he was to be opening for two of his childhood heroes. Kristoff's set was very well thought-out, balancing intelligent raps and flows with a bit of freestyling... sometimes from dangerous positions on top of stools. At one point, he cut off the music and mentioned that he would now read a verse he'd memorized from the Bible, which he then proceeded to speed rap his way through acapella. He also pulled out his guitar for a bit and strummed his way through a verse or two, mentioning upfront that he was nowhere near as good as Ceschi at it. He also noted that he stole the biblical acapella bit from Cescent Moon's stage show, and referenced a number of rapper friends over the course of his performance. In some ways, if there was one downside to his set, it was that it felt like a collection of bits and pieces from other rappers' shows as opposed to something unique to Kristoff Krane. Still, it was a very entertaining and intimate set, with several instances of rapping from the middle of the crowd and lots of happy faces in the audience. Good show.

Busdriver was the next rapper weirdo to take the stage, and his set was out-of-this-world amazing. I was worried that Busdriver would go the route of performing only songs from his new album, which is a bit hit-or-miss for me, but instead he chose only the livest numbers to play from "Beaus $ Eros" and hit a stride of stylistic adrenaline that carried through his entire set. He mentioned upfront that he wasn't feeling that great, but his mood quickly improved as he barreled through hype numbers like "Me-Time," "Bon Bon Fire," "Beat My Bitch" and "Imaginary Places" to a very excited crowd. In addition to performing his complex verses flawlessly and improvising on his production equipment, Busdriver's humorous stage charisma was at its peak. At the end of one song, he broke into chanting 'swag," only to pause and turn to the crowd to inquire whether that's how the kids said it these days. Aesop Rock also showed up to perform their collaborative song "Superhand's Mantra," which had the crowd going nuts as both MCs rocked the living shit out of their respective mics. By the end of Busdriver's set, I felt elated and privileged to have witnessed such a key Blowedian give it his very best. "Swag" indeed.

Buck 65 had a lot to live up to after Busdriver's excellent performance, but somehow he succeeded in cementing his place as the evening's rightful headliner. I'd only seen Buck 65 live once before opening for Sage Francis in SF, and I remember him completely stealing the show that night with a very engaging and entertaining set of strangeness. He proved to be just as entertaining a headliner at this show, if not more so for the simple fact that he had a chance to perform for much longer than before. From the beginning of the show when Slim's opened its doors, Buck 65 had a song request sheet sitting at the merch booth for folks to jot down songs they wanted to hear from him, and the sheet got filled with requests as the night went on (I put a "x2!" next to "Pants on Fire" myself). I figured that he was just going to play the most requested numbers on the sheet along with a bunch of his newer material, but he did so much more. Buck 65's entire set was requests, and he played over an hour and thirty minutes of music that people in the audience had chosen for him to play. Not only did he cover every song on the request sheet, he also added in a couple numbers that people shouted from the crowd, including some extremely obscure early songs that he hadn't performed in ages. Highlights included "Indestructible Sam," "Food" (from "Square"), "Pants on Fire," "Bachelor of Sciences," "Stella" and "The Centaur" to name a few. He also performed some hilarious pornographic numbers, including "Enter Governor Bolts" (but you didn't read that here, lest I ruin any secret rapper identities). Buck 65 was a joy to watch on stage, from his excellent verses and hilarious dance maneuvers to his great scratch routines and turntable work. He's truly an eccentric character and a very engaging entertainer. A really awesome set that topped off an excellent show.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Void Pedal "Pair of L"

Expanding the Backpack, 2/21/12

There were no instrumental hip hop albums in 2011 that moved me as much as Void Pedal's "Omni-Colour," so it's super exciting to see a new EP of songs from the ultra-talented Chicago beatsmith. And believe it or not, this new "Pair of L" mini-joint is being offered to you for FREE via the Fieldwerk Records website! Acquiring this download for yourself is a serious no-brainer. There are no labels in hip hop currently offering the high level of instrumental music that Fieldwerk has at their disposal, and this is a perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to Void Pedal's tunes (or expand your collection of his music, if you're a major fan like me). Tracks like "21 Guns Pt. 2" and "Strugs" will leave you scratching your head over why this guy hasn't blown up to RJD2 levels of popularity yet. Really complex and moody layered instrumentals. Download Void Pedal's "Pair of L" on Fieldwerk's website, or preview a song from it beneath the tracklisting below.

1. Observer
2. Solace Eye
3. 21 Guns Pt. 1
4. 21 Guns Pt. 2
5. 21 Guns Pt. 3
6. Strugs

QM & Pudge "No SleE.P."

Expanding the Backpack, 2/21/12

Round two of 2012's Rec League takeover comes in the form of this new free EP from QM & Pudge, who deliver some really chill West Coast vibes with this extra nice shortplayer. This project is not quite on par with Proe's superb full length "Be Brave, Gladiator", but comes damn close to matching it in quality and is another great free release from the rowdy SF clique. I'm really impressed by how much QM's rapping has improved on this EP, as he's developed a very smooth sound with his verses that stands out more than any of his previous recordings. This EP is really fun feel good music that should work great at a live show (as Rec League songs always do) or through car speakers on a sunny drive through Cali. You can download the "No SleE.P." for free via QM's Bandcamp Page, or stream it under the tracklisting below. P.S: "Ernie McCrackin" is a pretty sweet name for a guest rapper as well.

1. No Sleep (produced by Juicy the Emissary)
2. Out Rage Us (produced by A Sims)
3. White Boy Wasted (produced by Grip Grand)
4. Woke Up in the AM (feat. Proe) (produced by Juicy the Emissary)
5. Time to Get Paid (produced by A Sims)
6. Know My Name (feat. Ernie McCrackin & DJ Yeah Def) (produced by TLit)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Brother Ali "The Bite Marked Heart" EP

Expanding the Backpack, 2/14/12

In honor of St. Valentine's Day, Brother Ali and Rhymesayers entertainment are offering up this free collection of romance-inspired songs. Produced by Jake One and Ant, this is the first EP of brand new material from Brother Ali in a minute, and features collabs with folks like Phonte and Aby Wolf. It's far from the best Brother Ali EP you'll ever hear, but dude is undeniably a great MC and it's nice to hear him delivering something new to dig into. I'm not as big of fan of Jake One's production as I am of Ant's production, but I'll be checking for his upcoming "Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color" LP when it drops never the less. Download the free EP Here to hear it for yourself. Tracklisting and production credits below:

1) Shine On (feat. Nikki Jean) (produced by Jake One)
2) Electric Energy (produced by Jake One)
3) I'll Be Around (feat. Phonte & Stokley Williams) (produced by Ant)
4) I Can't Wait (produced by Jake One)
5) Years (produced by Ant)
6) Haunted Housebroken (feat. Aby Wolf) (produced by Jake One)
7) The Bite-Marked Heart (produced by Jake One)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

E. Lit's Faves From 2011

The Lowdown, 2/4/12

So here's 10 albums and 10 shows that really stood out to me last year. I've got no new write-ups for these, but I'm providing links to reviews I wrote for them over the course of last year on this very blog. Enjoy the opinions, and keep in mind the numeric ordering is rough:

1) Sims - "Bad Time Zoo" (Doomtree) Review Here

2) Qwazaar & Batsauce - "Bat Meets Blaine" (Galapagos4) Review Here

3) Open Mike Eagle - "Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes" (Hellfyre Club) Review Here

4) Gel Roc - "Beautiful Tragedy" (Abolono) Review Here

5) Blueprint - "Adventures in Counter-Culture" (Rhymesayers) Review Here

6) Astronautalis - "This is Our Science" (Fake Four Inc.) Review Here

7) Void Pedal - "Omni-Colour" (Fieldwerk) Review Here

8) One Be Lo - "L.A.B.O.R" (Subterraneous) Review Here

9) Candy's .22 "A Girl And Her Gun" (Grimm Image) Review Here

10) Moka Only & Chief - "Crickets" (Feelin' Music) Review Here

Other Top-Notch Hip Hop Releases from 2011:
  • Iame - "Lame" (Taxidermy)
  • Sole & the Skyrider Band - "Hello Cruel World" (Fake Four Inc.)
  • Doomtree - "No Kings" (Doomtree)
  • Co$$ - "Before I Awoke" (Tres)
  • Senor Kaos - "The Kaos Effect" (High Water Music)
  • Noah23 - "Fry Cook on Venus" (Fake Four Inc.)
  • Knives & Gasoline - "Love Songs for Crime Scenes" (Grimm Image)

A rough listing of my favorite shows from 2011 below. Unlike the album listings, not all of these got write-ups on my blog previously, so I've providing a line or two for the ones that I didn't have a chance to properly document. Order isn't set in stone, but I'm giving them numbers cus' it's fun!

1) Awol One & Factor, Ceschi with Anonymous Inc., Cars & Trains, Kirby Dominant, Megabusive and Abadawn @ Elbo Room, SF. Review Here

2) A-Team, Xololanxinxo, Exile, Speak Easy, Omid, Spare Parts 4 Broken Hearts & Tha Conclusion at the I <3 Neila Benefit @ New Gabah, LA Review Here

3) Rec League, Fist Fam, Rhyme Force Most Illin', Z-Man & DJ Quest @ 111 Minna Gallery, SF - no write up for this one. There were soooo many Gurp City shows to choose from, but this one stands out in my mind because it was the very definition of "party." Great art, great party-driven crowd, best performance I've seen from Fist Fam to date, awesome Rec League and Rhyme Force sets, crazy after-party with Z-Man on the mic and Quest on the decks. Dancing for days. Gurped the fuck out!

4) Ceschi, Paranoid Castle, Rikolus & Kaigen @ Ear Peace Records, Berkeley Review Here

5) Bleubird, Edison & Cars & Trains in the Freeeebird Van @ 18th & Dolores, SF Review Here

6) Astronautalis, Rustangs & Crescent Banks @ Thee Parkside, SF Review Here

7) Knives & Gasoline, Avatar, Abnormal, Panik the Fatman & Nomadic Souls @ Olde Princeton Landing, Half Moon Bay Review Here

8) Qwazaar & Batsauce, Lady Daisey, Ro Knew with Mic Logik & FaGo @ Club 6, SF Review Here

9) Dessa with Aby Wolf, Sims, Lazerbeak & Lady Crayon @ Bottom of the Hill, SF Review Here

10) Hopie, Rocky Rivera, Hard Candy & La Femme Deadly Venoms @ 330 Ritch, SF - no review for this one, but it was definitely the surprise of the year for me as far as live shows go. Went just to support Hopie on the release of her new album with no expectations and was treated to an awesome all-female line-up that pretty much killed it. I didn't know any of the acts outside of Hopie prior to this show, and they all delivered! La Femme Deadly Venom had some crazy scratch and keyboard routines, Hard Candy rocked the spot, Rocky Rivera had the crowd eating out of her hand and Hopie was beside herself with joy over the turn-out and massive support. Good times!

Had a ton of fun at those shows and too many others to name here! A couple of honorable mentions though:

  • Busdriver, Dark Time Sunshine, Understudies & Max Bundles @ The Stork Club, Oakland
  • Justus Bendz, F. Stokes, Rhyme Force Most Illin @ Red Devil Lounge, SF
  • Fist Fam, Rec League, Grand Invincible & BPos @ Elbo Room, SF
  • David Ramos, Tommy V, Gel Roc, Maleko, Raj & Crescent Banks @ Olde Princeton Landing, Half Moon Bay
  • Sadistik, Sarx, A_Rival & Woke With a Plan @ Kimo's, SF
  • Richie Cunning, Pep Love & Melina Jones @ Elbo Room, SF
  • OMD, Candy's .22, K-the-I???, Avatar, Sully & Verble @ Airliner, LA
Overall, 2011 was a hell of a year for music. I'm privileged to have met so many amazing people, to have heard so much awesome music, and to have had such a great time with folks. Here's hoping we carry on the tradition in 2012!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

January 2K12 in Hip Hop Terms

The Lowdown, 2/2/12

Still haven't had a chance to post my "Best of 2011" shit, but figure I'll fall behind if 2012's releases ain't covered on a monthly basis. One month in, and we've already got some crazy great albums on our hands.

1) Archetype - "Red Wedding" (Dekagon Records)

My vote for the strongest release of January 2012 goes to the Lawrence hip hop group Archetype, who have pretty much delivered their masterpiece with "Red Wedding." This third and final installment from rapper ID and producer Nezbeat finds them operating at the pinnacle of their respective abilities, resulting in an album that greatly exceeds all sorts of expectations. When Archetype's sophomore album "Bleed for Them" dropped in 2007, I remember liking Nezbeat's rapping more than ID's, so I'm pretty shocked to hear how great ID sounds on this new one. He handles the entirety of the rapping here save for a few background vocals, and his raps are melodic and perceptive in a way that "Bleed for Them" only hinted at, with terrific hooks and dope concepts strung together through interesting lyrics that evoke images of failed weddings and abandoned chapels. ID's rapping also works better on its own thanks to the incredible dark psychedelic vibes that Nezbeat provides in the beat department, with a grittier and more mature atmosphere that makes this the best produced Archetype album by far. Beautiful live drumming and guitar work is seamlessly fused together with sampling for a gorgeous musical backdrop that offers up some of the finest hip hop beats you'll be hearing in a minute. Plenty of stand-out songs, with some of my favorites including the hopeful horns and driving flutes of "All In," the nuanced evolving guitars and spooky samples of "Look Away," the colorful keys and layered voices of "Winding Mind," and the ill lyrics and catchy refrain of the title track. In the end, the only thing I don't like about "Red Wedding" is that this is apparently the last Archetype album, as ID and Nezbeat are now pursuing different music careers in different genres. Not a bad note to go out on though! You can stream the song "Dance of the Dead" from the album below:

2) Bleubird - "Cannonball!!!" (Fake Four Inc.)

As if Archetype's album weren't dope enough, a close contender for the best release of January 2012 is Bleubird's long-delayed third solo album "Cannonball!!!," which has finally been served up to us courtesy of the kind folks over at Fake Four Inc. I've been listening to Bleubird's music here and there for years and grew to appreciate him more after seeing him play in his RV Van in San Francisco last year, so naturally my hopes were running high for this release. Expectations grew higher still when I learned that Astronautalis and Radical Face were handling the production for this one, and somehow the project managed to deliver on all of its promises. "Cannonball!!!" sounds nothing like any of Bleubird's previous releases, and has a quiet yet epic indie pop vibe to it that finds everyone pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and delivering something brilliant in the process. Granted, a lot of what makes Bleubird's music so great is still present here, it's just been given a new snakebite-driven makeover from Astronautalis and is sounding fresher than ever. Crazy creative concepts and lyrics, including a party track about the oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico and a song detailing abandoned buildings in different parts of the world, plus plenty of passionate rapping with daring vocal approaches. Bleubird even parodies a Louvin Brothers song and flips it into an amoral Christian folk diddy smack dab in the middle of the album! Truly creative stuff, awesome all around. Check out his video for the song "Pimp Hand" off the album, which was shot on beautiful Super 8 film:

3) Lazerbeak - "Lava Bangers" (Doomtree)

Lazerbeak's latest instrumental offering is not quite on par with the other two releases I listed this month, but it's still a super high quality album of beats from one of the best producers in modern hip hop. "Lava Bangers" follows the J Dilla "Donuts" formula of stringing together a gang of unreleased banging beats and mixing them in a way that makes the project feel like a cohesive whole. Thanks to the expert mixing skills of DJ Plain Ole Bill and the consistent heatery of Lazerbeak's production, this formula works quite well. There are some serious bangers on here like "Mighty Jungle," "Bully," "Xylophone" and "Lift Every Voice," and it's easy to play this one front to back. It's not one of the more essential releases of the Doomtree catalog, but it is bound to bring a smile to the face of many a picky beat snob. Check out the song "Smash Hit" below for a little taste of the 20 beats on display here:

Lazerbeak "Smash Hit" by doomtree