Saturday, June 29, 2013

Gregory Pepper & Madadam "Big Huge Truck"

Expanding the Backpack, 6/29/13

New free EP from weirdo indie-pop hopper Greg Pepper and Canadian producer Madadam, offered up courtesy of Fake Four Inc.  This follows in the steps of Gregory Pepper's excellent "Escape From Cystal Skull Mountain" album that dropped last year, and has been billed as more of a hip hop style side project that him and Madadam closely worked on together for a while.  Even if Gregory Pepper's moronic singing and humorous lyricism aren't your cup of tea, this free project is still worth checking out for the collaborations that him and Madadam have roped in from their Fake Four fam.  Featured over the course of the album are verses from Ceschi, Noah23, Awol One, Open Mike Eagle and Kirby Dominant to name.  Stand-out songs include "House on Wheels" and "Let's Be Friends," though the album's crowning achievement may be "Walrus for Mayor," which finds Awol One and Gregory Pepper waxing poetic over a very warm and optimistic Madadam beat.  My only gripe with this project is that the sound is mixed very low, which means you really gotta crank up the volume if you want to hear it clearly next to other recordings.  Still definitely worth a free download over on the Fake Four Inc Bandcamp Page, or a stream under the tracklisting below: 

1. Sisypheon Rock (Gregory Pepper Mix) 
2. Mechanical Head (feat. Blue Blue Heron) 
3. House on Wheels (feat. Noah23) 
4. Cautionary Tales (feat. Ceschi) 
5. Pinch the Hooch, Double Helix, Jizz Cracker 
6. Walrus for Mayor (feat. Awol One) 
7. Stone Airplane 
8. Madadam Interlude
9. Stirring Dead Leaves (feat. Open Mike Eagle) 
10. Let's Be Homies (feat. Kirby Dominant) 
11. Fronting In Your Heartbone (feat. Livestock) 
12. Sisypheon Rock (Madadam Remix) 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Destro Destructo "Day of the Dead"

Expanding the Backpack, 6/17/13

New album from Destro Destructo of Oldominion/Boom Bap Project, "Day of the Dead," available on a donation basis (or as a free download) via Destro's Bandcamp Page.  This album is entirely produced by a producer from Zaragoza, Spain by the name of Cash Flow, who tragically passed away in 2011 over a battle with leukemia.  Destro decided to complete the project and offer it up to the masses in Cash Flow's honor, and the album is an achievement with plenty of stand-out boom bap hip hop jams to nod your head to.  Cash Flow's simple loop-based production is a great compliment to Destro's steady voice and style, and the plethora of guest spots from the always excellent Oldominion crew further boost the quality of the product.  Early favorites to me are the title track and "Along for the Ride," though the whole thing is pretty solid and well worth a listen.  You can download the album for free over on Destro's Bandcamp, but if you choose to donate something for it 65% of the proceeds will be donated to cancer research/care in Cash Flow's name.  

1. Dream Big 
2. Along for the Ride 
3. Undertow 2.0 (feat. Snafu & NyQwil) 
4. Sweat Equity 
5. Day of the Dead (feat. Goldini Bagwell & Pablo) 
6. Filthy (feat. JFK) 
7. Fever (feat. L Pro) 
8. Grizzly 
9. Heaven & Hell (feat. Bishop I) 
10. Black Cobra (feat. Onry Ozzborn, Iame & Laura Ivancie) 
11. Served Cold (feat. Luck One) 
12. Occupational Hazard 
13. Electrico (feat. Oldominion) 
14. Champion Sound (feat. L Pro) 
15. Eyes Wide (feat. Josh Malm aka Redwood Son) 
16. Fade Away 
17. Code of Conduct (feat. Silas Blak & Serge Severe)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Literate Accomplishment

The Latest Greatest, 6/7/13

New album from Literati, entitled "Fait Accompli," dropping on Ecid's Fill in the Breaks imprint on June 25th.  I'd heard of this group in passing through Ecid's promotional pushes, but was first introduced to their music at a pretty shitty show in San Francisco at a bar called the Showdown, where they only managed to play two and a half songs before a gang of rowdy reggae DJs cut them off mid-set to spin records.  Still, even with such a short span of time to show and prove, it was clear to me that these two fellas knew what they were doing and how to do it well.  The group's two members, Mercies May and Chris Caesar, have been involved with a lot of under-the-radar projects over the years, with a wide range of collabs that have even included Little Dragon (yes, the current popular Little Dragon).  Their material as a duo seems to be destined to get progressively better, and leave it to Fill in the Breaks to highlight that progression with this new full length of theirs.  Looking forward to hearing it, check out the video for the single below:

1. Modern Life
2. Echo & Narcissus
3. No Money
4. Bad Karma
5. My Own Worst Enemy
6. Cupid
7. Tear Gas
8. Swoon
9. Parade
10. Way Out
11. The Future
12. Shade And Shadow

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

nosunnofood "nosunnofood"

Expanding the Backpack, 6/5/13

New self-released project from Edison, under the moniker of nosunnofood, available now on a name-your-own-price basis.  This new album is an accoustic driven project that was apparently recorded over the course of four years and underwent various moves and metamorphoses in the process.  Edison is one of the Bay Area's finest producers, and this collection of songs offers up a quieter and more meditative approach to his beats while maintaining his trademark excellence.  The folky guitar elements of the production here remind me a bit of the awesome instrumental hip hop album that 2econd Class Citizen released last year "The Small Minority," though nosunnofood definitely stands out on its own and delivers a very strong emotional palette of sounds.  Some great music to write or make art to, but also an album that you can really pay attention to in your headphones.  You can download the album for whatever price desire (including Free Fifty Free) via Edison's Bandcamp Page or you can stream it in full below:

1. the sighs
2. slow climb to the common corners
3. there is no war in love and hate
4. astringent
5. the repeating fades grayer everytime
6. until the day your keys own you
7. my modesty, your venn diagram
8. where she walks, i will walk too
9. that dream of falling face first
10. breaking through to find more to go through
11. last time, that stuff you said was wrong

The Offspring Runneth Over

The Latest Greatest, 6/5/13

New album from Gajah & Mute Speaker, "On & Offspring," out as of a few days ago via Acid Lab Records.  Gajah is one of the many skilled MCs out of LA who never seems to get the right amount of props for his projects, with a grip of quality albums both as a solo artist and as one half of Project Blowed's Acid Reign crew.  I like Gajah's music in general, but this new collaboration with Brighton-based producer Mute Speaker sounds like one of his most solid projects to date.  The album boasts some very strange and edgy electronic production, plenty of tightly written verses and flows, and some ill guest spots from Open Mike Eagle, Ceschi, Tommy V, and more.  The always awesome cover artwork from Albane doesn't hurt matters any either.  Feel free to stream the project below, and make sure you score a copy for yourself if you're feeling it. 

1. On
2. Enough is Enough
3. The Great Indoors
4. In Between Time (feat. Open Mike Eagle)
5. No Mercy On These Parts
6. Lawd Have Mercy Lude
7. Peace of My Mind (feat. Shuanise)
8. Beast in Man's Clothing (feat. Sojourn, Shames Worthy & Zane One)
9. Game Runner
10. Party Animals
11. Stability (feat. BeOND & Lyricon)
12. See No Hear No
13. Kids These Days (feat. Ceschi & Tommy V.)
14. Offspring

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thr33 X Dope

The Latest Greatest, 5/23/13

Psyched to see that the Th3rdz debut album "This That & Th3rdz" finally has a solid street date attached to it, and will be dropping June 18th via Camobear Records.  Seattle's Oldominion collective has got its fair share of criminally slept on rappers, and when I heard that JFK, Candidt and Xperience were working on a project together, I immediately started keeping a careful ear to their bandcamp page in order to download whatever tracks I could get my greedy hands on.  These three are some very skilled rappers, both on stage and in the studio, so as expected the leaks from this project (which date as far back as 2011) have been damn great.  What I wasn't expecting was how many of those leaks wouldn't make the final cut, which I'm assuming is a good thing since this beast is 19 tracks long and probably loaded with A-sides.  JFK, Candidt and XP all have excellent solo projects under their belts, and they compliment one another nicely on guest spots and at shows.  This debut of theirs also boasts production from Vitamin D, Smoke, and Kuddie Fresh amongst others, along with guest features from Nacho Picasso, Geologic of Blue Scholars, and Sleep of Oldominion.  Bangalangin'.  Peep a couple of videos from the album under the tracklisting below:

1. Intro
2. Big Chain (feat. Cadence)
3. Rap Rap (feat. Piece)
4. Hustle Harder (feat. Geologic of Blue Scholars)
5. Fixed & Addicted
6. Settle Down
7. Boobiewho (feat. Sonny Bonoho)
8. Work
9. All Do It
10. Be Yourself
11. Playas Only (feat. Brotha Brown)
12. Go For Broke
13. GNikes (feat. Fatal Lucciano)
14. Pushin' (feat. Nacho Picasso)
15. What You Waiting For
16. Favorite Song
17. Go Off (feat. Sleep of Oldominion)
18. Awaken Your Dreams
19. Goodies

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dillon & H20 "The New Blues Brothers EP"

Expanding the Backpack, 5/22/13

New free EP from Dillon and H20 of Mass Influence, who are touting themselves as "The New Blues Brothers" and who got the funky chops to prove it.  Dillon is a rapper who I wasn't immediately sold on when I heard his earlier work, but who's gotten progressively better with each release to the point where he's kinda killin' it on this new EP.  Mass Influence also released a hell of a comeback song "Morning Breath Chasers" last year, and it's great to hear some new rawness from H20 on here.  The Blues Brothers concept is fun and ties the project together nicely, and the whole thing has the enormous benefit of being produced by one of funkiest hip hop producers on the map, Batsauce.  Good stuff, you can download "The New Blues Brothers" for free (or whatever you wanna donate) on Dillon's Bandcamp Page or stream the EP below:

1. 106 Miles to Chicago (Intro)
2. The New Blues Brothers
3. Outlaws
4. Something in the Wind
5. Waddap Y'All (feat. Chop)
6. Get Your Mackin' On

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Corina Corina "Come Again: The Eargasm Extended"

Expanding the Backpack, 5/15/13

New free EP of quality music from NY-based R&B singer Corina Corina.  "Come Again: The Eargasm Extended" is a solid collection of mostly extensions and remixes from Corina's last full length solo album "The Eargasm."  It serves as a nice companion piece to that album, but also functions well as an entry point for people who have yet to hear Corina's music.  Tracks like the remix of "Express Train" benefit from the inclusion of some great new guest verses, and it's awesome to hear fresh material from Corina with Angi3 on "Walk a Mile," but the EP's crowning achievements are the impressive remixes of the songs "O.D Love" and "Royalty."  With "O.D. Love,"  Connecticut producer Deto-22 transforms a previously mellow number into a dark electronic tour de force that seems constantly on the verge of leaning into drum n' bass territory, with exciting results.  Similarly, Willie Green's remix of "Royalty" completely abandons the quiet lounge atmosphere of the original in favor of some strong percussion and funky organ sounds, reworking the song into something entirely new.  Great EP all around, accompanied by some very tasteful cover art.  You can download "Come Again: The Eargasm Extended" for free over at Corina Corina's Bandcamp Page, or stream it under the tracklisting below:

1. Express Train (Remix) (feat. Roc Doogie)
2. O.D. Love (Deto-22 Remix)
3. Royalty (Willie Green Remix)
4. I'm Free (Francois Merryweather Remix)
5. Cost of Living (Remix) (feat. Julius Jones)
6. Walk a Mile (feat. Angi3)

Lone Wake Up Call

The Latest Greatest, 5/15/13

New album from Saskatoon's shining star Factor, entitled "Woke Up Alone," dropping July 23rd 2013 via Fake Four Inc.  Expectations have been shifting into high gear over at My Backpack is Bigger Than Yours HQ ever since this one was announced to the masses.  Factor's last full length solo album, "Lawson Graham," was such a high-caliber conceptual body of work that it's hard to think of a producer compilation style album that rivals it in its artistry.  "Lawson Graham" offered up a loving ode to Factor's grandfather through the unlikely wedding of hip hop and folk music, delivered in such a perfect way that you'd assume the genres had been married for years instead of being newlyweds.  With this new Factor project on the horizon, it's a pleasure to see that he hasn't slowed down on the ambitious conceptual side of things.  "Woke Up Alone" supposedly tells the tale of a grieving protagonist (played by rapper Kirby Dominant) who is trying to cope with the death of his wife.  This tale is split into 5 scenes meant to represent the different stages of mourning, with guest rappers guesting in roles that range from the protagonist's psychologist to the Devil himself.  Judging by the first leaked single off the album, the sound that Factor is aiming for on this album is something more dark and haunting than his usual fair, driven by dreary guitar jabs and creepy keys.  Looks like some exciting stuff for sure, check out the leaked single "Alive Tomorrow" featuring Nomad and the album trailer below:

Denial & Isolation (Scene 1)
1. Woke Up Alone
2. The Empire Has Fallen (feat. Paranoid Castle)
3. After the Service

Anger (Scene 2)
4. Raise the Dead (feat. Ceschi)
5. Alive Tomorrow (feat. Nomad)
6. Stone Cold (feat. Open Mike Eagle)

Bargaining (Scene 3)
7. Long Hallways
8. In Sickness & In Health (feat. Onry Ozzborn)
9. Don't Give Up (feat. Paranoid Castle & Jeans Boots)

Depression (Scene 4)
10. Denied (feat. Myka 9)
11. Devil's Call (feat. Evil Ebeneezer)
12. Carry Over (feat. Jeans Boots)

Acceptance (Scene 5)
13. Let It Go (feat. Astronautalis)
14. Give Up (feat. Gregory Pepper & Paranoid Castle)
15. The Grave Burial 

Friday, April 19, 2013

B.I.C. (Bitches Is Crazy) "Influence"

Expanding the Backpack, 4/19/13

New free full length album from New York hip hop crew Bitches Is Crazy, brought to you by NY's often underrated High Water Music label.  I have very little to share about these guys since they're a new name in my book and I can't find a bio listed anywhere, but from what I can piece together the group consists of a bunch of rapper types (Yesus 199, Pete, Ill Spills, Izzy OZ) and a couple frequent producers (VESA, MP the God, Chuk Le Garcon).  This "Influence" album of theirs earns them some strong points in the "classy hip hop street vibes" department, with their gruff voices complimenting the  soulful production nicely.  The album has a couple misses, and content-wise the constant raps about bitches and blunts do leave something to be desired, but overall this joint succeeds in my book off the strength of atmosphere that it evokes.  I really do feel immersed in the world of hip hop that B.I.C. lives in when I toss this on, and there's something to be said about hip hop that can convey that feeling to you even when you can't always relate.  Sucio Smash of High Water Music tends to be somewhat of a don when it comes to picking strong slept-on rap talent from New York (Homeboy Sandman, Fresh Daily, Senor Kaos, etc.), so it's always worth casting an ear to his picks of the litter.  You can download B.I.C.'s "Influence" free of charge over at the High Water Music Bandcamp Page, or stream it under the tracklisting below.  

1. Yinfluence 
3. This Money 
4. Shinin' 
5. WAVE 
6. Basic Bitch (Typaniggayou)
7. Ever Since 
8. Yo Soy Widdit 
9. What's Up (They Know) 
10. That's Right 
11. Groupie Love 
12. Taking Shorts 
13. Busty Love 
14. Food For Thought 
15. Wise Words 
16. DOPM 
17. Happy to be Here (Shoutro) 
18. Mechanism 
19. Split 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ecid "Post Euphoria" EP

Expanding the Backpack, 3/31/13

Late on sharing this one, but I was under the impression that it was supposed to later in the month and the single that premiered on Rolling Stone's website (props!) threw things off.  I've actually been listening to Ecid's new freEP since around the beginning of March, and it's another strong showcase of his smarty pants rapping and beat-making expertise.  The EP kind of picks up where his 2012 masterpiece "Werewolf Hologram" left off, following a similar pattern of choppy production techniques and snide rap verses while adding more live instrumentation into the mix.  "Post Euphoria" is mostly lighthearted in tone but deals with a lot of dark subject matter, and Ecid keeps things clever and interesting for the course of its short duration.    I hear that a new full length "Pheromone Heavy" is in the works for 2013, so color me intrigued.  You can download the "Post Euphoria" EP free of charge via Ecid's Bandcamp Page, or stream it in full below.

1. Burn Everything
2. Dream Boat
3. Kum & Go (feat. Ashley Gold)
4. Insomniac by Choice
5. 2Pac Cobain (feat. Sean Anonymous & Rapper Hooks)
6. Akmude Sallam (2013 Version)

Monday, March 18, 2013

2K12's Most Slept On Hip Hop Gems

The Lowdown, 3/18/13

Well, 2012 is far behind us, and I swear that this will be my last post about hip hop from that year.  Instead of offering up one of those pointless top ten album lists, I figured that I'd highlight my picks for most criminally slept on gems of 2K12.  Some real great albums on this list, please give them a listen if you haven't already: 

   1)   Edison “Delayed Reaction Elements” (self-released) 

Edison’s latest album is a masterful display of beat-making skill that stands out as the best instrumental hip hop album of last year, as well as one of the top ten releases of 2012 period.  This album has been in the works for a minute, with many of the songs playing a major role in Edison’s amazing live beat show over the course of the last few years.  Edison is known as a master at rocking the Monome, a sophisticated piece of blinky button-based electronic equipment that’s used by some of the more brilliant IDM musicians out there.   While Daedelus will often use the Monome as a means of crafting new mixes at his live shows, Edison’s live set involves a different sort of improvisation.  He digs into his own Monome compositions and plays them live in an exciting and unpredictable fashion, harking back to familiar tunes but never playing them quite the same way twice.  “Delayed Reaction Elements” is everything that one could have hoped for from an Edison album after seeing his live show, with plenty of very detailed and intricate beat compositions that relay a lot of emotion while keeping folks’ heads nodding.  Too many stand-out songs to cover in a short review blurb, but some favorites include the chunky guitar based brilliance of “Bare Feet on Lego Bricks,” the creeping chords of “The Poetry of Public Transportation,” and the extra funky bassline kick of “There Is No Hand Too Left, No Cubicle Too Deadly.”  The whole album has a really interesting choppy rock sample vibe that gets one wondering whether Edison could have been a stadium rocker in another life, but the tone and sounds are diverse enough to keep you guessing from song to song.  This album was originally going to be released by Fieldwerk Recordings, a Chicago label at the forefront of the instrumental hip hop scene, but monetary issues ended up preventing it from happening and the album ended up getting released independently on Bandcamp with little to no publicity.  Anyone who’s had the chance to see Edison play in the Bay Area or open for Aesop Rock and Dark Time Sunshine on their last tour will know how much of a crime it would be to sleep on this one.  The album is available for sale via Edison’s Bandcamp Page and is worth every penny of the price.  Please invest in it so the man can press this thing up properly!  You can stream the album in full below if you’d care to test its quality:  

2)      Avatar “This Machine Has Gone Wrong…” (Dumptruck) 

Avatar has been putting some extra hard into the LA underground scene for some time now, and this fourth solo release of his is his strongest material to date.  “This Machine Has Gone Wrong…” is the darkest and grittiest Avatar album thus far, and the feel of the album works perfectly with his production aesthetic and style of rapping.  Av is often thought of as a Shapeshifters and Ex Vandalz affiliate, with many tracks produced for members of the Shifters and a dope album with Bleek under the group name Speak Easy.  My first impression when listening to this new album was that the sound harkened back to some of the older and iller Shapeshifters recordings, with tracks like "Passage" and "Invasion" really capturing the oddball futuristic styling generally associated with that crew.  But to paint this album as some sort of Shifters knock-off would be doing it a great disservice, as Avatar really delivers an original sound here that taps into his punk rock roots and dwells upon the wickedness of the world.   Avatar's verses are smart and wordy enough to measure up to your favorite nerd rapper, but there's a gruffness to his voice and a rugged quality to his words that reflects his rough upbringing and Inglewood home.  Tracks like "Shatterproof" find Avatar relentlessly barreling through his verses while numbers like "Cold Piece of Work" and "How Could You?" convey a more reflective and personal mood.  The beats that Av delivers throughout the album are exceptional and far better than the beats on any of his previous collabs, with a very sinister and raw sound that's easily distinguishable amongst the wealth of LA talent.  The stand-out jam "Propellers" is a great example of the quality of the production on here, pitting Avatar's catchy sung hook and chaotic verses over a noisy and immaculately layered track of marimbas and evil basslines.  The album's got lots of stand-outs, and features the likes of Awol One, 2Mex, Dumbfoundead, Xololanxinxo, K-the-I??? and Megabusive amongst others (hats off to Smile Oak for destroying his verse on "Passage").  Another album that got insanely slept on due to only being released on Bandcamp with zero promotion... I doubt the awful cover art helped in selling it either! Stream it below, and don't forget to drop some dollars on it over at Avatar's Bandcamp Page if you enjoy it. 


3)   Adeem & DJ MF Shalem "Made in New Hampshire" (self-released)

A completely unexpected new album from Adeem and Shalem, and a damn funky one at that!  I'll freely admit that I thought Adeem & DJ MF Shalem's first album as a duo "Transitions" was a complete mess and a total let-down, particularly in light of the far superior Glue material that was surfacing from Adeem at the time.  "Transitions" had a few classy songs like "Good Company" that stood out to me, but overall it felt like an album that had been worked on for too long and that had gone through too many transitions (ahem) before its completion.  "Made in New Hampshire," on the other hand, features such an effortless chemistry between Adeem and Shalem that one gets the sense that it could have been hammered out in a week's time.  Though if it really was crafted in that short a period, then the sheer amount of polish and cohesiveness would be worth singing praises over.  Both Adeem and Shalem are at their funkiest and most upbeat here, abandoning some of their more conceptual endeavors (see: Adeem's "Volume in the Ground") in a determined effort to bring some good old-fashioned happy hip hop tunes to the masses.  They might not be breaking any bricks with the approach, but the formula works extremely well.  Adeem's voice has a very confident and soulful quality to it now that goes well with the music at hand, and he kicks plenty of dope flows and hooks without skipping a beat.  DJ MF Shalem continues to build upon the excellent funk production he laid down for Grip Grand's "Rewinder" album, now incorporating lots of live instrumentation that conveys a truly charming old school hip hop feel.  Lots of groovy basslines and funky guitar licks to get your ass in gear too.  Definitely an ill album...  My understanding is that there was a limited rough version of this album pressed up on CD, but that they're already all gone and that Bandcamp's the only way to go.  So stream the album below, and check out Adeem and Shalem's page if you want to make a purchase: 

4)   Bi-Polar Bear "When Ledge is Home" (Modern Shark) 

This was one of the most mysterious slept-on hip hop albums of 2012 in my book.  I know very little about these guys, other than that they go by Ug Orwell and August, they live in Brooklyn, and they make some fine lo-fi rap musics.  Their recent connection to the NY-based Modern Shark label turned me on to their music, and I'm glad that I was since this new album of theirs is full of catchy melodic rapping and some very creative production.  Like many projects put out by Modern Shark, the album has a very likeable home-made feel to it that never detracts from the quality of the music at hand.  Stand-out songs include "The Days" with its warm keyboards and super catchy hook, "Fuck Her Pt. 2" which samples some kind of strange Japanese pop ballad, and "Ledge" which features production from Blue Sky Black Death and raps from Baje One of Junk Science (every bit as good as it sounds on paper).  The album has a good-natured goofiness to it in its choice of film samples and hooks, and you get the sense that these two have got a lot of heart in what they do.  Strong song-writing and production make "When Ledge Is Home" worth checking for in my book.  The album also gets extra props for being the only album on this list that's actually available for ordering on CD, and with hand-painted packaging no less!  Stream it for yourself below and then go order one over at the Modern Shark Store if you dig. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Molotovs, Anyone?

The Latest Greatest, 3/14/13

New album from Prolyphic & Buddy Peace, "Working Man," dropping 4/30/13 on Strange Famous Records.  Curious to see how this one turns out.  I was a fan of Prolyphic's work with Robust back in the day, but had a slightly harder time listening to him rap through a full album on his own.  Then again, I still occasionally revisit songs from the "Ugly Truth" album that he put with Reanimator five years ago, and I've heard nothing but good things about Buddy Peace as a producer.  I think this project has potential, and the lead single "Business as Usual" is definitely a nod in the right direction.  I'll be checking for it come the 30th, tracklisting and song below:

1. Stale Bread Winner Part 1
2. Business As Usual
3. Unpopular Demand
4. Drug Dealer
5. Death of the Boombox (feat. Sage Francis & Metermaids)
6. Bad Influence
7. F*** Banks
8. Six Feet High
9. Midtro
10. Hand Grenade
11. Go Green
12. The Tunnel
13. Stale Bread Winner Part 2

Sapient & Evil Ebenezer at Sol Collective, Sacramento CA

View From the Front Row, 3/14/13

A little over a week ago, I had the privilege of seeing Sapient's new live show over in Sacramento CA at a little art gallery called Sol Collective. Those who've spoken to me about hip hop recently know that Sapient's new album "Slump" gets my vote for the strongest release of these early months of 2013, so I felt justified in driving the distance to see him after a busy day of work in Berkeley. Accompanying Sapient on this tour was Evil Ebineezer, whose music I also tend to enjoy, so the stage was set for an excellent hip hop gig.

First, a word or two about my impressions of the venue and the picture of the Sacramento hip hop scene that this show painted. On the plus side, the small art space got a surprisingly good turn out of hip hop fans, despite the lack of alcohol or snacks or any of the luxuries typically associated with these sorts of shows. Hell, even the bathroom was a tricky thing to reach, as it was located behind the stage with a narrow window of space to maneuver through if you wanted to get there without disturbing the performers. The art exhibit on display was not particularly good, and the diverse crowd of fans turned out to mostly be friends of the various performing artists, which brings me to the real negative side of this show. There were about seven local Sacramento hip hop acts who were not listed on the bill that ended up performing before Sapient and Evil, and each and every one of them was mediocre at best. I'm not gonna list their names here since I ain't trying to get on the Sacramento scene's shit-list or anything, but sitting through every one of them was a chore and I found myself bored and lounging on a couch in the back, which is not something I typically do at rap shows. One thing that stood out to me beyond the mediocrity of it all was the lack of excitement or passion in what a lot of these openers were doing. It was like they'd just gotten up for work and didn't really want to be there playing a show. Strange, since just the other week I saw a Sacramento based hip hop duo Mad1ne absolutely kill shit live to the point of stealing a show in Berkeley. Guess they just chose the wrong dudes to open for this one. It's all politics when it comes to booking these sorts of events anyway.

Once Evil Ebenezer got up to play, the crowd had dwindled to a much smaller pool of hip hop heads. But like the DJ Abilities and Sadistik show the night before, the fans remaining made up for the lack of a large audience with their genuine enthusiasm and appreciation for the music. I reclaimed my rightful place in the front row before Evil kicked off his first tune, and was pleased with the immediate positive reactions of the crowd, which felt a lot more genuine than the half-hearted applause that the Sacramento openers got. This was my first time seeing Evil play live, and he breezed through a good selection of songs from his "Call Me Evil," "Birds," and "Evil Eye" albums that emphasized his cool rap voice and penchant for poppy hooks and songwriting. There have been points in Evil's recent recordings where his sound has gotten a little too poppy for my tastes, but it seems like he avoided playing any of those tunes in favor of highlights from his various albums. Some stand-outs included "Take Me With You," "Scarecrow, "Wonder Years" and "Liquor Store," which somehow managed to work despite the sobriety of the venue. "Wake Up" was also an excellent mellow way to end the set, and Evil got a good deal of call and response from the crowd for most of his songs that had him in a good mood the entire time. He encouraged people to come visit him at the merch booth after the show even if they didn't want to buy anything just to say what's up. Nice set.

Sapient was up next, and he put on a very engaging and impressive show that really demonstrated how he's grown as a musician. He and his keyboard player/touring partner AED set up various instruments and props on stage, and then Sapient kicked things off with an instrumental set that showcased his production talents live. He churned out some hype synthy sounds with his beat equipment in an unexpected intro to his set, which worked well. Once he'd finished showing off the beats, Sapient picked up his guitar and took to the mic while AED held things down on the keyboards and drum machines for the "Slump" part of the show. This segment of Sapient's set was the highlight of the night to me, as it was awesome to see him and AED translate the sounds of Sapient's new album to a live setting. I wasn't sure if Sapient would be as convincing a singer live as he was on record, but he managed it just fine at Sol Collective. This was only the second or third night of Sapient and AED road-testing the new "Slump" material and there were a few hiccups here and there in the syncopation of the music, but for the most part the songs were played flawlessly and had their own original sound live. "When" and "Monsters Eat Bricks" were stand-outs to me, but "Ello" was definitely a crowd favorite and got a lot of love from folks. After covering about 8 or 9 songs from "Slump," Sapient dropped the instruments, picked the mic up off the stand, and ran through some of his older rap numbers for the hungry fans. He played mostly songs from "Gunwings" and "Barrels for Feathers" and did them justice, though he took it back further to "My Grind is Tech" and "Letterhead" for the encores. Sapient's rapping sounds good live and he gets pretty animated on stage, but the third part of the show was probably the weakest of the three. I really liked the format of the set overall, though, and think that Sapient should stick to incorporating all three of these elements in order to cover the bases and give the crowd a sense of his diversity. If I weren't familiar with Sapient's recordings, I definitely would have looked into them after watching his set. Very interesting and creative performance that lived up to expectations.

Overall, this was a good show despite the questionable string of openers (Sapient even made note during his set that it was like "a little festival"). I recommend checking out this guy's new live show for yourself if you get a chance.

Monday, March 11, 2013

DJ Abilities, Sadistik and Maulskull at Neck of the Woods, SF

View From the Front Row, 3/11/13

Last Saturday, I went to check out Sadistik's most recent tour opening for DJ Abilities at Neck of the Woods (formerly known as Rockit Room) in San Francisco.  The last time I saw Sadistik play in the Bay was early 2011 at a headlining show at Kimo's SF, where he got live in front of an audience of maybe 5 people.  That show was my first experience listening to Sadistik's music, and I've checked out a bunch of his recordings since, including his pretty excellent new release on Fake Four "Flowers for My Father."  I was curious to see him play some of his new material live, and was also interested in seeing what DJ Abilities would bring to the table for his set.  Unfortunately, this event was another under-promoted gig with a pretty minimal turn-out of people, but it didn't stop any of the artists from doing their damn thing and actually made for a pretty special and intimate show. 

Maulskull of Black Mask was the first of the acts to perform, and took the stage once folks had given up on getting any sort of reasonable attendance.  I'd seen Black Mask play once before at a JFK show in SF and remember enjoying their set, so it's cool to see Maulskull still touring and doing his thing.  He performed a bunch of solo songs from his new album "Us & Them" which highlighted his heavy synth production and energetic flows, and was very approachable and responsive to the crowd.  He played his set mostly off stage and a few feet into the crowd to get closer to the shy spectators, only reclaiming the stage in order to work in a bit of scratching here and there.  Stand-out songs included "Rise" and the very somber "Marionette," which set the tone for Sadistik's set well.  Maulskull was also kind enough to give away hard copies of "Us & Them" to everyone in the crowd, and like Black Mask's album, these freebies were packaged beautifully in glossy digipacks with solid artwork and some impressive guest features.  A guaranteed way to get me listening and paying attention to your album.  Good performance.

Sadistik was the next artist to play, and he put on a strong set of songs spanning his discography that relayed his personality well.  One thing that I really enjoy about Sadistik's music is the moods that it sets through both his lyrics and his choice of production, and these moods are only amplified when heard through booming club sound systems.  Tracks like "Searching for Some Beautiful" and "Russian Roulette" were really brought to life through the surrounding speakers, and Sadistik performed them with a live intensity that one might not expect from listening to his albums.  He played his entire set off-stage next to the circle of fans, which he brought in closer for his songs and frequently interacted with.  Amongst those watching were Young God of Blue Sky Black Death, who Sadistik often pointed to when a track that used a beat of theirs dropped.  Fake Four's label manager DJ Halo was also part of the circle as well, and was nodding his head appreciatively to the performance.   Sadistik incorporated some strong stage antics in a determined effort to impress the small crowd, including one memorable moment where he referenced the serial killer in "Silence of the Lambs" by applying a bunch of chap stick to his lips and asking the crowd "do you love me now?"  He also performed a freestyle that incorporated a couple of topics chosen by the crowd, which was a fun segment of his set, though he was not quite reaching Astronautalis levels of amazing when it came to that game.  His songs "Kill the King" and "Ashes to Ashley" got some very strong and favorable reactions from those in attendance, though it was a little strange to see him perform "Micheal" live, as that track almost feels too personal for a live setting to me.  Never the less, the entire set was enjoyable and went appreciated by everyone in the circle of fans.  A strong performance for sure.

DJ Abilities set up shop at his turntables shortly after Sadistik's set was a wrap, and he threw down an enjoyable DJ mix that incorporated old school hip hop, new school hip hop, classic rock, a touch of reggae and some soul.  His show on this tour was similar to his interludes on the last Rhymesayers tour with Atmosphere, with him mixing up songs as an ill DJ should and keeping the crowd entertained with his picks.  He also incorporated some of his signature class-A scratching between songs, and used some interested vocal plug-in effects to chop some of the songs into fragments.  I used to idolize DJ Abilities as a scratch DJ when I was younger, and Eyedea & Abilities opened at one of the first underground hip hop shows I ever went to back in the day, so seeing him pull some scratch routines is always a treat.  The crowd was sparse, but Abilities' tunes had pretty much everyone who was still there dancing, including my friend B and myself in the front.  The only negative thing I have to say about DJ Abilities is that in my limited experiences chatting him after shows, he's always struck as having a bit of an ego...  After this event, he was going on about how no one is crafting DJ mixes like he is and how it's easy to fill most venues with his name on the bill.  I enjoyed his set, but frankly his routine was not that far removed from the DJ mix sets that friends of mine spin in Oakland on a regular basis.  Still, it was a good show.

Despite the small turn-out of people, this was a very good show.  Met a lot of great folks and had a lot of fun.  Good times.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Moodie Black "Moodie Black" EP

Expanding the Backpack, 3/5/13

New free EP from one of the latest signees to the almighty Fake Four Inc, Moodie Black.  Consisting of vocalist/producer K., guitarist Sean Lindahl, and drummer David Norbert, this Arizona based hip hop noise outfit is new to me but has a pretty impressive sound.  They used to go under the name GAHEDiNDIE which vaguely rings a bell to me, but this is definitely my first time hearing their material and I'm enjoying the extra noisy and distorted approach they're bringing to the table on this EP.  Their jagged sound immediately stands out and the production kind of reminds me of Ecid's beats on the recent Sector 7G album, with plenty of discordance highlighting some well thought-out flows and melodies.  Strong material that's got me looking forward to more.  You can download the EP over at the Fake Four Bandcamp Page or stream it below:

2. NO BLOOD (feat. Ceschi)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Good Night for Understudying

The Latest Greatest, 3/2/13

After a gang of mixtapes and a ton of shows in the Bay Area, the Understudies Crew has finally released their official full length album "One Night Only" via their bandcamp page.  This group consisting of Citizen, Sean E Depp, Gee, Poe, Manifest, Fly Cobb, Self Advocate, Husayn Jay and Myers is one of the most well-respected hip hop crews out of Berkeley CA, known for their live shows and also their community building in the East Bay hip hop scene.  "One Night Only" is not a perfect album, but it is the strongest collection of songs from the Understudies thus far and the most cohesive sounding project from them to date.  A number of the songs on here like "Wilde (Life of the Party)" and "All Here (Remix)" should be familiar to Berkeley heads who've seen them destroy shit live, while other newer numbers like "Way of My Words..." are sure to impress fans of the crew.  The album reaches a high point with the Digital Martyrs produced song "Part 2: Got the Blues," where the Understudies team up with their friends Candlespit Collective and Mikial to deliver some very stylistic bitching about former relationships.  The Understudies are offering up this album on a donation basis, so make sure you toss some money in the pot so they can press this thing up as a CD in a digipack.  Donate and download on the Understudies Bandcamp or stream the album below: 

1. Sirens 
2. Numbers & Math 
3. No Higher! 
4. Mindstate (feat. JB Nimble) 
5. wile. (LifeOfTheParty) 
6. Chamber of Secrets / NoTengoMuchoDinero 
7. Karate Man (Bleed on the Inside) 
8. Part 1: Remember Me 
9. Part 2: Got the Blues (feat. Candlespit Collective & Mikial) 
10. thesmileswewear. 
11. way of my words... 
12. solutionaries (whenthingsgetdreary) 
13. Consider the Options (No Grammy) (feat. JB Nimble) 
14. LetGo(Don't) (feat. JB Nimble & Scarub) 
15. All Here (Remix) (feat. Manifest, Citizen, Fly Cobb, Husayn Jay, JB Nimble, Cyberclops, Poe, Gee, Sean E Depp, Welsed & Self Advocate)
16. Forecast

Thursday, February 28, 2013

November 2K12 in Hip Hop Terms

The Lowdown, 2/28/13

Well, despite already being knee deep in music from 2013, we're still stuck on 2012 over here at My Backpack is Bigger Than Yours.  Belated review central!  Make sure you check these joints if you haven't already:

1) Sole "A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing" (Black Canyon)

This new album from Sole picks up where “Hello Cruel World” left off, showcasing Sole’s modern slow flow over a variety of excellent beats from producers such as Ecid, Factor, Man Mantis, Busdriver, Alias, Skyrider and many more.  I went in expecting to hear a nice companion piece to “Hello Cruel World,” but was surprised to find that “A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing” is actually a superior album that continues to improve upon Sole’s rejuvenated style over some seriously ill production.  If “Hello Cruel World” was the sound of Sole testing the waters with his new lyric heavy approach, then “A Ruthless Criticism” finds Sole completely in his comfort zone as he flexes his rugged voice with a confidence rarely heard in rappers of his ilk.  There is a very select set of MCs who can be political on record without sounding like they’re trying to pander to some trendy hip hop demographic, and Sole belongs high on that list with his biting wit and self-deprecating humor.  “Denver Nights” covers the police brutality of Occupy Denver while “Last Earth” is a sung ode to the devastation of the Planet, but sharp political comments are littered throughout the album and never sound forced.  Sole’s jaded outlook on hip hop is also a pleasure to listen to, as he dispels the notion of hip hop as a movement on “Young Sole” and gives advice to a younger generation of MCs on “Letter to a Young Rapper,” noting that “most white rappers sound like they’ve never been punched in the face.”  The range of the production on the album really helps drive across Sole’s style, with traditional choppy beats like the outstanding “Never Work” balancing out the equally great electronic productions like “Animal.”  This and “Hello Cruel World” are two of the strongest Sole projects in years, and with a Vol. 2 for “A Ruthless Criticism” entitled “No Wising Up & No Settling Down” on the horizon, it seems that Sole’s back in full form and showing no signs of slowing down.  Listen to the song "The Untouchables" featuring greencarpetedstairs on the hook below: 

2) Myka 9 & Factor "Sovereign Soul" (Fake Four Inc)

Myka 9 & Factor’s latest collaboration is a very dense and cerebral body of work that will probably require a couple of listens before it clicks, but once it does there’s quite a lot to dig into here.  Myka’s vocals are meant to be studied, as he possesses a broader range of styles than most rappers and tends to indulge in lots of risks on his albums.  From the impressive chopping skills on “Mind Heights” and “Sexy to the Beat” to the old school baritone cadences on songs like “Heaven Up,” Myka 9 is clearly in a class of his own when it comes to rap vocals, and tends to be heralded as one of the greatest technical rappers of all time for his feats of stylistic prowess.  It’s not always easy to wrap your head around what he’s trying to accomplish, but it’s a welcome challenge that's often worth studying on repeat.  Backing up Myka in the beat department is the talented Saskatoon producer Factor, who delivers a very psychedelic soundscape with live instrumentation similar to his recent instrumental "Factor & the Chandeliers" EP.  The sound is a lot more nuanced and detailed that the straightforward dopeness of Factor's beats on Myka 9's previous "1969" album, and while it's not as instantly likeable it somehow feels like there's more going on in the compositions here.  Lots of interesting collaborations with like-minded creative MCs on this project as well, including the monstrous "5 Mikes" posse cut featuring Open Mike Eagle, Mykill Myers, Mic King and a ridiculous verse from Myk Mansun.  Listen to the collab with Astronautalis and Ceschi, "Bask In These Rays," below:

3) Corina Corina "The Eargasm" (self-released)

This album almost snuck under my radar, but I had the good fortune of running into Corina in one of her visits to my record shop and she was kind enough to hand me a copy to listen to.  More often than not, when people hand me music this way I end up listening to it once or twice and then leaving it to gather dust, but occasionally an album proves to have real replay value and ends up being a discovery of sorts.  “The Eargasm” is one of those albums.  A very personal, polished and well-composed piece of work that merits more than just a couple of plays and continues to get bumps from me in 2013.  When I started listening to “The Eargasm” for the first time, I will admit that Corina’s R&B singing voice did not immediately click with me, but I never felt the need to skip a song and by the end of the record she’d definitely convinced me of her talents.  She carries her voice well over a variety of very modern hip hop beats provided by Willie Green, Steel-Tipped Dove, Has-Lo and others, and the album flows exceptionally well from front to back at a nice pace.  Corina really knows how to express herself over these tracks, and I love how the music is a very direct reflection of her as a person.  The album has songs about trying to the pay the rent in New York, quitting day jobs, loving the notion of loving others, and persevering through past relationships.  She heeds by the mantra "baby, don't sell yourself short" and truly does not sell herself short over the course of the record, delivering a very complete portrait of herself as a person.  The excellent production and mastering job from Willie Green breaths a lot of life into the songs, and in the end we're left with the strongest hip hop R&B project since Mankwe's album from August.  Here's hoping that 2013 continues to offer up offbeat hip hop-influenced R&B projects like this one...  I hear that Lady Daisy & Batsauce have a new one in the works, so we shouldn't be waiting too long!  Check out the music video for Corina Corina's song "The Familiar" below: