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