Sunday, November 29, 2009

Review: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II

Review Scale:

1, 1.5= (Travesty, Abysmal)

2, 2.5= (Waste of Time, Below Average)

3, 3.5= (Average, Above Average)

4, 4.5= (Superior... Likely a top release of the year, Near Classic... Some minor flaws)

5= (Classic)

Much like Dr. Dre's Detox and Guns & Roses' Chinese Democracy, Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II has attained a near mythical status. If you don't know the story about the first Cuban Linx..., you should. It is one of the best Hip Hop CD's of all time, and it single-handedly created the genre known as mafioso rap. Almost every Hip Hop song about hustling and drug dealing, post 1995, was most likely influenced by Cuban Linx.... Many debate whether it is the greatest album in the Wu-Tang discography, which is quite an honor considering other albums like GZA's Liquid Swords and Wu-Tang's first album, Enter the 36 Chambers, are also referenced as classics. However, Raekwon's efforts after the first Linx could be described as mediocre, at best. Immobilarity and The Lex Diamond Story lacked the fire of Rae's first album, and when word began to spread that he would attempt to make a Cuban Linx... Pt. II, fans were skeptical to say the least. Many feared he was no longer capable of making an album of that calibur, and in the process ruin the legacy of his 1995 classic. Well, I'm happy to say that those fears can be put to bed. Cuban Linx II is the best album of 2009, and one of the best of the decade. That may seem like a BOLD proclamation, but trust me, it is certainly worthy of that praise.

For this sequel, Rae enlisted some of Hip Hop's finest producers including, RZA, The Alchemist, J Dilla, Pete Rock, and Dr. Dre. Everyone does their part, especially Dilla who provides the rousing "House of Flying Daggers," and the head-nodder "10 Bricks." However, the most important contribution comes from Rae's partner in crime, Ghostface Killah. Just like the first Linx, Ghostface 'guest stars' as the slick talking Tony Starks. Once again, he does not disappoint. Making appearances on six tracks, he steals the show a few times, most notably on the wildly entertaining track, "Gihad." After one of Rae's standard crime stories, Ghost goes on one the most bizarre rants I've heard in some time. Long story short, he gets 'a little something' from his son's girl, his son walks in on them, and all kinds of fisticuffs ensue. I don't want to spoil it, so you'll just have to listen to it for yourself, but trust me- it is hilarious.

One notable part of Cuban Linx II is the number of non-Wu-Tang affiliated features. Jadakiss and Styles P show up on the raucous "Broken Safety," which is as vicious as it sounds. Jada spits some memorable lines including, "niggas in the yard got this on repeat, black, fuck saving Hip Hop we bringin' the streets back." Not to be outdone, Styles comes out swinging, "I used to move brown rectangles, roll you a blunt, then smoke you with death's angel." Another one of the finer moments comes when Beanie Sigel comes through on "Have Mercy." Beanie's voice, along with his lyrics, describe a man who has been beaten down and battered. You can feel his pain as he rhymes, "my days getting shorter, my nights getting longer, my cell getting smaller, my son getting taller. I exercise my mind, my body getting stronger, but my blood getting colder, heart getting harder." Even Lyfe Jennings comes through with a great hook on the Dr. Dre produced banger, "Catalina." Surprisingly, Dre's clean and glossy mixes work well with the rest of the album, which is quite grimy to say the least.

As I said before, there are very few flaws on this album, but I do have some minor gripes. It is a little disappointing to hear so many familiar beats and/or samples. If you listen to a lot of Hip Hop, you may have heard all of the Dilla tracks already ("10 Bricks"= "The Red" by Jaylib, and "Ason Jones" and "House of Flying Daggers" are on other Dilla beat tapes), "Sonny's Missing" is the beat used for one of Pete Rock's songs "Questions," and there are a couple other examples that aren't worth mentioning. That said, Raekwon adds such a great flavor to these songs, that it almost doesn't matter if you've heard these tracks used elsewhere.

Verdict: 4.5/5

This is what every Wu-Tang and Hip Hop fan hoped for- raw, uncut music. Raekwon does not disappoint and delivers one of the best albums in recent memory. Is it as good as the original? Not quite, but it is unfair to compare the two. Cuban Linx II more than holds its own, and only adds to Rae's (and Wu-Tang's) legacy. This album is not for the faint of heart, and must be heard from start to finish to truly appreciate.

Highlights: "Gihad," "Broken Safety," "10 Bricks"

Skip These: "Baggin' Crack" (which isn't even that bad, it just doesn't stack up to the rest of the album)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

One of the Diddy types, da D-D-Dame Dash dudes

As big a fan as I am of Jay-Z, I gotta say I'm a bigger fan of the brains behind the former dynasty known as Roc-A-Fella... Dame Dash. Although, Dame has recently gone through some financial troubles, it's great to see him back in the lime-light. Currently he is executive producing the Blak Roc project, and working with other artists like Curren$y, Mos Def, Jim Jones, and Jay Electronica. Recently, Dame has done a lot of interviews which I found pretty interesting, not just because I'm a Dame stan, but he has some introspective thoughts regarding various projects and business ventures. Ch-Ch-Check it out...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Put Em On Up

A lot of great hip-hop artists seem to be releasing their newest albums soon, but one I haven't heard too much buzz about is Snoop Dogg's tenth studio album, Malice N Wonderland. I have to admit, I haven't heard an outstanding Snoop verse in a while so I came in skeptical, and a lot of this doubt probably stems from the train wreck that is Sexual Seduction.

But I digress. I was played a couple leaked tracks off Snoop's new album, and like I have been experiencing a lot lately, I just needed more. None of the tracks were real stand outs and I have come to expect more from an industry veteran like Snoop.

Then I heard Upside Down. The beat and concept might be a little radio, but he really goes in. This goes back to some vintage Snoop. He changes up his flow a couple times throughout and it adds to the changes you hear in the production, done by Terrace Martin. Although I haven't heard much Nipsey Hussle or Problem, they are featured on the song and don't do much to take away from the Doggfather's success on the track. When you think the track is over after three solid minutes of straight hip-hop, Nipsey comes in and provides us with one more final verse. Here's to a new party anthem.

Snoop Dogg ft. Nipsey Hussle, Problem - Upside Down

Going In Hard

Travis Barker has been releasing "remixes" on popular tracks where he goes in on the drums over the original track. With all that talent, it's not surprising that he takes many of these tracks to whole other levels. The first release I heard was Travis drumming over Crank That back in the day and I was even impressed with that one.

He recently went over Slaughterhouse's The One, and I was hoping for the toughness of the track and the strength of his drumming to come together, but was left wanting more. That was until he released his remix of Drake's Forever. The added percussion track does something for the track that I thought had lost a lot of it's buzz because of being over-played.

This remix definitely made me appreciate the track one more time around and gave the song a renewed life. And the video below really let's you see the effort he puts in to make his touch on the track successful.

Drake ft. Travis Barker, Kanye West, Lil' Wayne, Eminem - Forever Remix

Everybody Know Me

The internet is going nuts over Beanie Sigel's signing with 50 Cent after Rocafella and Jay-Z dropped him, but on the topic of G-Unit, we cannot forget those who left the clique to try and do bigger, better things.

I have a lot of respect for both Young Buck and The Game. They are both talented artists and lyricists in their own right and have been doing a lot of work post-G-Unit. The Game is coming out with his next studio album The R.E.D. Album - I've heard some leaks and am hoping that the album turns out better than what has been released so far. Althought I don't know of any upcoming Buck releases, he has been releasing tracks regularly.

The Game's Big Money is supposedly the first single off his next album. I recently heard the song and with such strong production from Cool and Dre, I was hoping he would do more with it. I hadn't heard much from Buck in a while, but he just released a track called Homecoming, a slower track depicting street life.

The Game - Big Money [Edit: Had it up, but had to remove the link due to copyright issues. It probably wasn't worth posting in the first place, anyways.]

Young Buck - Homecoming

Just The Underdog Barking

Joell Ortiz, one-quarter of the group Slaughterhouse has been putting releasing freestyle after freestyle on the internet, presumably trying to create some buzz. I'm a big fan of the Brooklyn lyricist and these freestyles only continue to show the work he was putting in. My favorite one so far is over The Clipse's Popular Demand, off Til' The Casket Drops, and even though Joell doesn't have popularity the Thornton brother's have, he still goes in on the beat. The second freestyle is over the beat for Fifty and Beanie's new release, I Go Off, that Mr. Evans just posted on. Keeping with the hard delivery that Beanie takes on the track, Joell goes bar for bar with a refreshing flow telling us how things are real for him.

Popular Demand Freestyle

I Go Off Freestyle

Friday, November 13, 2009

You Don't Want the Shooter? I'll Take Him...

So, as you may or may not know, Beanie Sigel recently released a diss track announcing his displeasure with how Jay-Z has managed his career. Essentially, as I see it, his relationship with Jay and "the R.O.C." is over. Quite honestly, it's kinda sad... it really is the end of an era. Roc-A-Fella's glory days were by far my favorite times in Hip Hop, and Beanie played a major part in that. Anyways, word is that Beanie is going to sign to G-Unit, which is a good look for him considering I'm pretty sure he was currently unsigned. All week long, the hype has been building for "I Go Off" which is the first, and most likely not the last, collabo between 50 Cent and Beanie. On some of the other blogs, the consensus seems to be split due to the enormous amount of 50 Cent haters. But all bias aside, the song bangs and it's good to hear Sigel spittin' fire.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I Got My Degree From Professor X

Ninjasonik, reppin' Brooklyn, NY, is a group that recently caught my attention. They've been making noise on the independent music scene for about two years, but recently, Kanye West posted a video by these guys on his blog called, "Hold the Line (Darth BaƱo Remix)." Taking the beat from the song "Hold the Line" by Major Lazer, the front man from Ninjasonik goes on a 2 minute lyrical onslaught spittin' straight bars, with no hook. I was immediately drawn to it and bumped it multiple times in a row. Be sure to check out some of their other releases including the Tight Pants EP and Art School Girls. I gotta say the reason I'm really feelin' them is the message they send: be yourself. As corny as it may sound, there's way too much "following trends" these days in music, but these guys are completely original.

The Massacre...

On December 22nd (although I'll believe it when I see it), what is likely to be one of the best albums of the year will be release. Raekwon, Ghostface, and Method Man of the Wu-Tang Clan, are releasing a collaboration album and you know it's going to be FIRE. There was speculation that such a project would never come to fruition due to the fact that Meth and Ghost are signed to Def Jam, and Raekwon is signed to his own independent label, Ice Water H20. Apparently, it is happening, and Wu-Tang stans can rejoice that such a monumental album will be released.

In anticipation of the album, two trailers have been released detailing what is dubbed as "The Wu Massacre." Based on the movie Se7en, the vids are entertaining and definitely help to build excitement for the collabo.

"The Wu Massacre Pt. 1"

"The Wu Massacre Pt. 2"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

You Ain't Seen Paper Like This...

As December 8th approaches, my anticipation continues to build for the new Clipse album Till the Casket Drops. Recently, XXL Magazine reviewed the album, and according to the review it was very close to getting the coveted XXL rating. Today, another Neptunes-produced track called "Doorman" leaked online, and it's a banger. I've been bumpin' it all day and I'm still not sick of it. Granted, I am a Clipse stan, but I find it hard to believe that anyone could really hate on this track.

Earlier today the Clipse released a video for the aforementioned song, so check it...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Top 13 Hip Hop Albums of the Decade

Today, well known radio personality Peter Rosenberg released a list of his "Top 13 Hip Hop Albums of the Decade." As soon as I read his list, I immediately started thinking about what my 'top 13' would be. For the most part, I'd say Pete was spot on with most of his choices, but there are a few I was skeptical of (The Carter III? Come on now...). It's tough to put them in order, so I decided to just list them in no particular order. Check out both of the lists, and let us know what you think. Feel free to post your 'top 13' in the comment section...

Clipse- Hell Hath No Fury (2006)

Although Ludacris' Release Therapy won an award for 'best rap album' at the 2006 Grammy Awards, there's no question that the honor should have gone to the Clipse for their ferocious effort on Hell Hath No Fury. With the sonic duties left entirely to Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, the production duo known as 'The Neptunes' provided the perfect stripped-down, yet vicious backdrop for Malice and Pusha T to spit their coke-fueled stories. More than just 'cocaine-rap,' this album showcased a despair and frustration that could only have been generated by 4 to 5 years of label politics.

Jay-Z- The Blueprint (2001)

Jay-Z's second best album to date, The Blueprint was significant for a variety of reasons. First, it served as the coming-out party for Kanye West, who produced "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," "Takeover," "Heart of the City," and "Never Change." With the exception of Timbaland and The Trackmasters, Jay-Z enlisted Just Blaze, Kanye, and Bink! to create the backbone of his album- leaving it in the hands of three barely proven up-and-comers. The result was a soul-driven classic which has stood the test of time.

Madvillain- Madvillainy (2004)

When I first heard about this album, I was more than skeptical about taking a listen to it. One look at the cover, and all I could think was this must be the craziest sounding album ever. And I didn't mean that in a good way. After reading the review for it on, I decided to check it out. What I heard was one of the most creative and wild albums I've ever had the privilege to listen to. Madlib's beats are some of the finest of his career and DOOM kills it. Much like DJ Premier worked perfectly with Guru, Madlib and DOOM are perfect for each other. To this day I still bump it, and I can't wait for the sequel to come out sometime in 2010...

Kanye West- The College Dropout (2004)

Kanye's first and best album. I don't care what anyone says, from top-to-bottom College Dropout is his best effort to date. With CLASSIC cuts like "Two Words," "Through the Wire," "Last Call," "Jesus Walks," and "Slow Jams," it is without a doubt one of the best albums of the decade. Sure, the skits along with a couple unnecessary tracks disrupt the flow of the album, but as a collective body of songs it is phenomenal.

Common- Be (2005)

Once again, Kanye adds some of his signature flavor to another great album. Be was the best Hip Hop album of 2005 (though The Documentary was close) and it resurrected (get it?) Common's career. Four years later, "The Corner" is still my jam. Kanye's production along with Dilla's two contributions ("Love Is" and "It's Your World") were the perfect palette for Common to spit his knowledge.

The Game- The Documentary (2005)

One of the best Dr. Dre executive-produced albums ever, from a production stand-point The Documentary is nearly flawless. Don't believe me? First track... "Westside Story"... second track... "Dreams"... third track... "Hate It Or Love It... fourth track... "Higher"... fifth track... "How We Do"... and I could keep going. Not to mention bangers like the Timbaland-produced "Put You on the Game" and heartfelt songs like "Start from Scratch" and "Don't Worry." If Game could have cut back on his "name dropping" and had shown a little more lyrical prowess, this is without a doubt a 4.5 star album.

Raekwon- Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II... (2009)

Is it too early to call this album a classic? Perhaps... but it is definitely the best Hip Hop album of the last few years (yeah, I said it) and the best East Coast album since The Black Album. Too many dope songs to mention, but without thinking too hard "Gihad," "Broken Safety," "10 Bricks," "New Wu," and "House of Flying Daggers" come to mind. Only mentioning these songs does not do this album justice, as there are very few flaws. It is a Hip Hop head's perfect album; a gritty, new-school Wu-Tang album with production from greats such as J Dilla, Pete Rock, Dr. Dre, RZA, The Alchemist, and Scram Jones among others.

Jay- Z- The Black Album (2004)

Speaking of The Black Album... what was supposed to be Jay-Z's last album, is also one of his best. With a slew of top-notch producers including DJ Quik, Just Blaze, Kanye West, Timbaland, The Neptunes, Eminem, and Rick Rubin (!), this would have been the perfect album to go out to. "What More Can I Say" is one of the greatest lyrical onslaughts I've ever heard... "with so many different flows, this one's for this song, the next one I'll switch up, this one will get bit up." There are so many heaters on this album, it's pretty ridiculous... "Public Service Announcement" and "Dirt Off You Shoulder" are the two that I always find myself going back to, but this album is one that you can listen to without ever having to press the 'fast-forward' button.

Ghostface Killah- Fishscale (2006)

Before Fishscale was released, Ghostface managed to create an incredible buzz by announcing that he would be teaming up with DOOM for production on his upcoming album. In addition to this revelation, he added that Pete Rock, J Dilla, and Just Blaze would be contributing as well. What followed was one of the best Wu-Tang albums of this decade, and what I believe resurrected Wu-Tang. With bangers like "R.A.G.U.," "Kilo," and "9 Milli Bros.," this was one of the best albums of 2006, and is one of my all-time favorites.

50 Cent- Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2003)

Get Rich or Die Tryin'... talk about a memorable debut album. "What Up Gangsta" has gotta be one of the best intro songs in Hip Hop, and what unfolds after it is nothing short of incredible. "Patiently Waiting," "Many Men," "In Da Club," "High All the Time"... If a few songs had been cut out, this would be a near-perfect album. One of my favorite lines will always be "you don't want me to be your kid's role model, I'll teach him how to buck them 380's and load up them hollows, have shorty fresh off the stoop, ready to shoot, big blunt in his mouth, deuce deuce in his boot." It's a testament to 50's brash, rebellious nature, and man is it entertaining...

Eminem- The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)

One of the greatest Hip Hop albums EVER... The Marshall Mathers LP, in Dr. Dre's words, is his most complete album as an executive producer. This album is a showcase of lyrics, top-notch production, and provocative stories. Everyone remembers the controversy surrounding it... I even remember my mom hesitant to buy it for me due to the firestorm of negative publicity it was getting in the media. Eventually she gave in and I'm happy she did because it quickly became one of my favorite albums. Cuts like "Stan," "The Real Slim Shady," "The Way I Am," and "Drug Ballad" are just a few of the classic songs on this album. Through and through, this album in fire...

Little Brother- The Minstrel Show (2005)

When Little Brother dropped "The Minstrel Show," it was surrounded with controversy. First of all, a title like "The Minstrel Show" is bound to rile up some feelings (even though what they have to say regarding the title is absolutely true), but what followed between the group and TV-network B.E.T. was unreal. When the group released their lead single, "Lovin' It," B.E.T. would not play it because they claimed it was 'too intelligent.' When I heard this, I was shocked and offended. Talk about dumbing down for your audience... B.E.T. admitted to doing just that. It created waves within Hip Hop, with people discussing the topic left and right. "The Minstrel Show" wasn't significant just due to the controversy it created, it was and still is an excellent album. 9th Wonder cooked up some of his best beats, and MC's Phonte and Big Pooh crafted memorable lyrics to create one of the all-time great 'underground' albums.

Scarface- The Fix (2002)

I remember the first time I heard a Scarface song. It was the year 2002, and I was a young lad that happened to stumble across a cut called "On My Block." It became my favorite song for a couple months then I forgot about it. Fast-forward a few years later and somehow (I believe I read a similar "all-time Hip Hop albums list) I managed to hear about Scarface's The Fix. I had heard about him and his former group The Geto Boys, but hadn't listened to anything they'd done. The Fix is more than a collection of songs that accompany "On My Block," it is an unbelievable album. "Guess Who's Back," with Jay-Z (and produced by Mr. West), is an all time classic, and the entire package is one of the best Southern Hip Hop albums ever.

Honorable Mention: DJ Muggs & GZA- Grandmasters, De La Soul- The Grind Date, Jay-Z- American Gangster, OutKast- Stankonia

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Review: The Blueprint 3

Review Scale:

1, 1.5= (Travesty, Abysmal)

2, 2.5= (Waste of Time, Below Average)

3, 3.5= (Average, Above Average)

4, 4.5= (Superior... Likely a top release of the year, Near Classic... Some minor flaws)

5= (Classic)

Finally, the long awaited album that every Hip Hop fan has been waiting for... Jay-Z's The Blueprint 3 is upon us. Many questions have come up with few answers leading up to its release, "will is live up to the first Blueprint?", "how will it fare with no production from Just Blaze?", and so on. Well, there is good news and bad news... The good news is Jay can still rap around 95% of mainstream artists, and he's made an album that is accessible to both Hip Hop heads and casual listeners. The bad news is it fails to live up to the immense hype. Jay's lyrical prowess, while still superior, is clearly not what it once was. It could be due to the fact that he chooses to show how he's "grown" musically, or quite simply he's lost a little bit of his God-given ability with age. While there are plenty of elder statesmen that prove the latter theory wrong (Ghostface, Raekwon, NaS, Common...), you never know. That said, fans of Jigga will be happy to hear that there is plenty of heat on this album to go around.

The album starts off with a rousing intro, "What We Talkin' About," where Hov raps about how he's moved on from certain beefs, "I ain't talkin bout gossip, I ain't talkin' bout Game, I ain't talkin' bout Jimmy, I ain't talkin' bout Dame," and how he's transcended rap music, "I don't run rap no more, I run the map." The opening stretch of the album sets the tone for what should be a smooth ride. No I.D.'s triumphant horns on "Thank You" are the exact instruments you would expect for Jay to boast over, with lines like, "I was gonna kill a couple rapper's but they did it to themselves, I was gonna do it with the flow, but they did it with the sales."

The strong showing continues with "D.O.A." and "Run This Town," and things get real interesting with "Empire State of Mind." Absolutely one of Jay's all-time great songs (and that's saying something), it isn't because of his lyrics so much as the epic beat along with Alicia Keys KILLING the hook. However, things quickly take an unfortunate turn for the worst.

With the exception of "A Star Is Born," the middle-to-end of the album is filled with mediocre songs. Never in my life would I have thought that Timbaland, the man behind classic Jay-Z collaborations like "Big Pimpin," "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," "Is That Your Chick," and "Snoopy Track" would have provided such lackluster, uninspired beats. While Jay's metaphors on "Venus Vs. Mars" are on point, the beat will bore you to death. "Off That" seems like a forced attempt to make a hit, and "Reminder" is ruined by a terrible hook.

Another gripe I have is with the Swizz Beatz produced "On to the Next One" which has one of the worst, grating beats I've heard in some time. I've attempted to listen to this song at least ten times, and still can't get through it all the way. It's hard to believe that Just Blaze (who doesn't make one appearance on this album) didn't have any heaters locked away somewhere to replace this garbage. "Already Home" and "Hate," while not terrible by any means, lack the replay value needed to make these tracks anything more than just mediocre.

Verdict: 3.5/5

Is it worth checking out? Certainly. But unfortunately, it simply doesn't live up to the hype. Timbaland's beats are incredibly generic, and the production is surprisingly lackluster compared to the polished bangers one would expect from a Jay-Z album. That said, I applaud the direction that Jay tried to go in, but it could have been executed much better. There are absolutely some great songs, (Empire State of Mind, A Star Is Born), but there are far more mediocre/filler songs than there should be.

Highlights: D.O.A. (Death of Autotune), Empire State of Mind, Thank You

Skip These: Off That, On to the Next One, Hate