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:  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Louis Logic, Ceschi, Jonny October and Troy Walsh at Union Pool. Brooklyn, NY

View From the Front Row, 2/19/13

I made a little visit out to New York last week and had the opportunity to see Louis Logic's first headlining show in 7 some odd years at the Union Pool in Brooklyn.  Featured in the line-up were the talents of Ceschi Ramos, Jonny October, Troy Walsh and J-Zone holding things down on the wheels of steel. 

The show was scheduled to start at 8:00 PM, so my homie Misha and I decided to schedule our metro ride to arrive down there in the 9:00 PM-ish range, under the assumption that hip hop shows always start at least an hour late.  By some strange twist of fate, Louis Logic managed to get things running exactly on time, which could very well be a first in my hip hop show-going experiences.  Unfortunately, we missed Troy Walsh's set due to our late arrival, and Jonny October was just about wrapping up his performance as we made our way through the crowd.  We did get a chance to see a special guest appearance from rapper Pack FM, who rocked a song or two as an interlude during Jonny October's set and got some pretty good crowd response going.  The few songs I heard from Jonny October sounded pretty good, and he seemed enthusiastic to be on stage opening for some underground heavy-weights.

As for the stuff I was in attendance for, I have to send a special nod of appreciation to J-Zone for his excellent DJ skills and selections between sets.  J-Zone spun exclusively 45s throughout the evening, and laid down some deep funk jams that had folks bobbing their heads and getting loose.  J-Zone's choice selections were obscure and funky as hell, and his interludes between sets were a major step up from your average DJ fare.  

Ceschi was the first of the acts I had the chance to watch from the front row at this gig, and he put on an amazing show that remains second to none in the world of hip hop and beyond.  He kicked things off with one of his signature acoustic rap songs and then grabbed the mic and went straight into "Count On It" to get the crowd riled up.  Ceschi is one of the more impressive acts to see live in my opinion because of the diversity of his songs and the command that he has over the crowd, regardless of what style of music he's playing.  He put on a stellar show, barreling through tracks like "Fall of Captain E.O" and "Bad Jokes" flawlessly without skipping a beat, with fans like myself shouting along to many of the lyrics.  Some highlights of his performance included an excellent rendition of "Black and White and Red All Over," an awesome performance of "Love Song for the Apocalypse" and a crazy finale of "Half Mast," which was performed from the center of the crowd amidst much sweating and moshing.  Louis Logic backed Ceschi up throughout a good portion of his set, occasionally providing back-up vocals and playing keyboards for the tunes, plus always emphasizing how much he loved the man's music.  One of the most memorable moments of the show was when Ceschi abandoned his mic and sat up by the bar to perform "The Way We Grow Back Tails" on his guitar, silencing the crowd to a whisper until the hook brought everyone together in song.  A truly great performance that turned a lot of heads and caused a lot of jaws to drop. I don't think I've ever seen this guy play a set where he hasn't at least partially lost his voice by the end of it all, and I'm always appreciative of how much he puts into his craft and his stage show. 

Louis Logic took the stage shortly after another J-Zone interlude, once again timing things exactly in accordance to the evening's schedule.  I'd only seen Louis Logic play live once prior to this concert, and it was about a decade ago in Virginia when he was touring with JJ Brown and promoting his "Sin-a-Matic" and Odd Couple albums.  I remember being pretty underwhelmed with his set at that show, partially because of Glue's show-stealing opening performance and partially because of some of his attitude and humor rubbing me the wrong way.  I actually ended up walking out of that show before he had finished, but his music has undergone quite a transformation since then and I was damn curious to see if he'd deliver this time.  When Lou kicked things off with "Up to No Good" and demonstrated how hungry and animated he was on stage, any fears I may have had quickly fell to the wayside.  He performed a very interesting and entertaining set that combined some of his older classics and songs from "Misery Loves Company" with his newer unreleased material, which will apparently be dropping on his upcoming album which if memory serves is tentatively titled "Always Look on the Bright Side."  Lou's old and new songs both worked very well for the most part, and offered very different sides of his music while maintaining his penchant for clever concepts and humor. Out of the older numbers, "Factotum" and "Rule By a Fool" worked super well on stage, and he performed a quality rendition of "The Ugly Truth" on his keyboard despite gripes about promising his fiancee he wouldn't play it that.  Speaking of Louis Logic's significant other, she was in attendance and got on stage to play some instruments for Lou's newer songs, which seemed slightly less grounded in traditional hip hop and featured a lot more singing and live keyboard playing.  I'd be lying if I said I was a fan of all of the singing in the new approach, but the songs themselves were very good and featured a lot of clever concepts, including a track dissing reality TV shows, a track advocating gay rights, and a song reflecting upon his past touring debauchery in a negative light.  The many enthusiastic fans in attendance demanded an encore, and Lou hopped into the crowd to throw down his verse from "Diablo."  Strong set that showed off Louis Logic's personality well, my faith in his live show has been restored.

The vibe of the NY crowd at this thing was great, and definitely benefited from my friends Corina Corina and PremRock being there.  Even got to meet Willie Green before the night was out.  Good times!