July 31, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: The RZA (as Bobby Digital) - "Don't Be Afraid"

Artist: The RZA (as Bobby Digital)
Title: "Don't Be Afraid"
Producer: The RZA
Album: Digi Snacks (2008)

After the abomination that is Digi Snacks, The RZA's fourth full-length solo album and third under the guise of the honey-dipped blunted hip hop superhero Bobby Digital, ends, listeners are treated with silence, but not for long.  Your media player, iPod, or car stereo shows the album cycling into a sixteenth track, but you don't really hear anything at first, until the artist formerly known as Prince Rakeem allows a simple drum beat to fade into place like a film, like the beginning of a new tale, a new tale that might not suck.

That's an approximation of the experience I had when I wrote about Digi Snacks seven years ago.  True fact: I haven't given that album the time of day since my Gut Reaction post, I hated it that much.  I suppose it was natural for The RZA to want to pull away from his Wu-Tang Clan brethren, especially since a handful of them were all over the media complaining about his work on what was their most recent group album at the time, 8 Diagrams (which I still liked, Max says to nobody in particular because nobody liked that album).  Perhaps that means RZA will dive even deeper into his own asshole and churn out a fourth Bobby Digital chapter sometime soon, since A Better Tomorrow is almost universally hated by old-school Wu stans who understand that artists need to evolve or else they remain stagnant, but still, come on, that album was terrible, right?  Alas, what's more likely is that he'll continue to write and direct movies (which isn't a bad thing - The Man With The Iron Fists wasn't really all that good, but it was entertaining enough.  Can't be bothered to watch the sequel though) and produce soundtracks for said movies, which most likely means we'll eventually be hearing Azaelia Banks over a RZA beat in the very near future (she's supposed to star in his next film, I think).  Your mileage may vary, depending on whether you give a shit about Banks or not.

Anyway, "Don't Be Afraid" is labeled as a hidden bonus track on Digi Snacks, but one doesn't have to do much work to locate it other than not shutting off the album after the fifteenth track ends.  Its sound is one of opposition to the rest of the overproduced proper album, which is probably why it's labeled as a "bonus": it's made up of a simple drum beat, a light melody, and a vocal sample from The Emotions' "I Like It" reciting the phrase "Don't be afraid to call my name", which sounds like RZA's plea to passersby to request his assistance of they ever find themselves assaulted by wack hip hop.  Which I still give him a free pass to do: he's the fucking RZA.  The Wu-Tang Clan, under his initial guidance, has created fucking masterpieces that still hold up today.  

Yes, there's some questionable shit you have to get through before you can enjoy the track fully.  RZA's insistence on claiming that "The mic is scared of me, son; it's like I'm gonna rape it" at the very beginning is not politically correct at best and fucking stupid at worst, only topped by his follow-up, "I date rape mics, my mic's a dyke", which makes zero sense and could potentially alienate a chunk of his audience.  He prefaces all of this by saying "Ason in my heart", so maybe his undying love for his late cousin, Ol' Dirty Bastard (R.I.P.), triggered him to spout phrases that he believed Big Baby Jesus would have said himself (and could have maybe pulled off, since Dirty was able to get away with certain shit due to his outwardly goofy nature), I don't know.

But after that initial bit of awkwardness, The RZA launches into a single long-ass verse that's among his best work, comparable to his similarly lengthy work on GZA's "Pencil", although he sounds more excitable on here.  He spends a good chunk of the song promoting the Wu brand, especially the B-team affiliates that receive actual shout-outs toward the end, but he pays also homage to Ol' Dirty by insisting that he "like[s] it raw", which, sure, only makes sense if you're familiar with "Shimmy Shimmy Ya", but if you don't know what that song is, why the hell are you reading a post about a Wu-Tang Clan song released more than a decade later?  He doesn't receive as much press for it now, but The RZA has always been kind of nice behind the microphone, dropping pop-culture references, religious jewels, and boasts 'n bullshit with the best of them, sometimes all within a single bar or couplet.

Another one of the reasons "Don't Be Afraid" might be classified as a bonus track is due to those lyrics: Prince Rakeem seemingly resurrects the Birth Of A Prince RZA for a spell, and the bars are filled with more personal reflections, as opposed to fake superhero boasts.  After he's finished speaking, he lets the beat play out as the vocal sample comes back and the band Stone Mecca, who RZA signed to one of the various Wu-related record labels but has yet to release anything of their own, who provide some complementing electric guitar work that helps close out the track.

There really isn't a reason to revisit Digi Snacks: that album really is terrible, and it was the first real crack in The RZA's armor for me, proof that he may not have his heart in making music anymore.  (Again, remember I liked 8 Diagrams.)  But "Don't Be Afraid" has been in my Wu-Tang iTunes playlist from the jump.  Give it a spin, won't you?

Do you agree or disagree with this selection?  Discuss below.


RZA as Bobby Digital - Digi Snacks (review)

July 28, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Jay Electronica - "Be Easy"

Artist: Jay Electronica
Title: "Be Easy"
Producer: Jay Electronica
Album: Style Wars EP (mixtape) (2007)

There's quite a few of you, I'm willing to bet, who are questioning my choice of Jay Electronica song for this mixtape-playlist-whatever the fuck it is I think I'm doing.  Sure, there are technically better and more creative selections I could have picked from: a personal favorite is "Act I: Eternal Sunshine  (The Pledge)", where he spits over the score to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (one of my favorite movies ever, so maybe I'm a little bit biased here), and I know a lot of you two have an affinity for the Just Blaze-produced "Exhibit A" or maybe even "Exhibit C".  But what I'm looking for here is something I can ride to, something that is simple but effective at making the head nod, and that something today is "Be Easy", generic song title and all.

Jay Electronica hasn't gotten a ton of press over here, but the reason for that is simple: he's never released an actual album.  All of the stuff that appears on Discogs are mixtapes, from the Style Wars EP that "Be Easy" was taken from (named after a series of demos he recorded in 2004 in Detroit) to the compilation What the Fuck is a Jay Electronica?, which the Interweb has taken to accepting as quasi-official.  Electronica is currently signed with a different Jay's record label (that would be Shawn Carter, better known as Jay-Z, obviously), and has been promising a debut full-length obnoxiously entitled Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn) for what's going on sixty-four years now; when we will ever see it is anyone's guess, since I seriously doubt he has any radio-ready singles on that motherfucker.  But that's a tale for another time.

"Be Easy" is much more accessible than, say, "Exhibit C", but just as lyrically impressive.  Over a self-produced (at least as far as I can find online) instrumental that immediately brings the word "militant" to mind, and not just because the hook contains the phrase "ready for war" repeated four times per instance, Electronica pumps out three verses full of well-crafted boasts and shit-talking.  For anyone who is still on the fence about listening to the man's work, who believe his music to be both daunting and impregnable, I urge you to find "Be Easy", where he proves that he can spit alongside the best of them, even though he takes on this track for dolo.  He pays quick homage to several influences, including what he refers to as "that revolutionary Pac shit" and the Ultramagnetic MCs, briefly, confirming that, regardless of his New Orleans home of record, he's capable of spitting fire, even if the hook is kind of meh.  But not meh enough to disregard the track as a whole.

The beat reminds me of something Killarmy might have wanted to rhyme over while recording their first album, which is a compliment: one wonders what Killa Sin could have done with it.  Mr. Porter's name is shouted out during the third verse, so I guess it is possible that he may have actually produced the track (I couldn't find any confirmation online, so any further info you two may have would be appreciated), but then again, Dame Dash is also the recipient of some props, and yet Jay ended up signing with Hova.  Huh.  But for a track that was possibly recorded eleven fucking years ago, it holds up surprisingly well, and fits in perfectly onto a playlist filled with songs you may not have given a second look to otherwise.  

There's absolutely no way any album Electronica releases at this point will ever live up to the ridiculous amount of hype he once had surrounding him (hype I never really bought into: as much as I possibly can, I try to reserve judgement until something actually comes my way, but it doesn't always work out the way I hope), so hopefully someone smuggles his debut off of his computer and unleashes it to the masses, just so we don't have another Saigon or Papoose situation on our hands.  Get it out of the way, I say, so Electronica can start focusing on the next one.  But for now, "Be Easy".

Do you agree or disagree with this selection?  Discuss below.


July 24, 2015

Reader Review: Kurupt - Against The Grain (August 23, 2005)

(Today's Reader Review comes from Sir Bonkers, whose own blog, Digging In Tha Crates, appears to be on hiatus, but if you're in need of more stuff to read, click the link.  Anyway, he took it upon himself to review the next entry in Kurupt's solo catalog, Against The Grain, which is most notable for marking his (temporary) reunion with Death Row Records for some fucking reason.  It also celebrates its ten-year anniversary in about a month, but I don't plan on buying it a present.  It knows what it did.  Leave your thoughts for Sir Bonkers below.)

July 21, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Fat Joe - "My Prerogative"

Artist: Fat Joe featuring Armageddon
Title: "My Prerogative"
Producer: Armageddon
Album: Don Cartagena (1998)

In 1998, Joseph "Fat Joe" Cartagena was riding an unexpected wave of popularity, one brought upon by his affiliation with the late Big Punisher, whose debut album, Capital Punishment, was met with both critical acclaim and respectable sales.  Since he's the one that put Big Pun on in the first place (let's pretend The Beatnuts don't exist for the purpose of this statement), Joey Crack felt he deserved all the credit, and as such, we all witnessed a resurgence of interest in his solo career, for better or for worse.  He parlayed this into Don Cartagena, his 1998 bid for mainstream acceptance that obviously featured Pun, but also Puff Daddy in a supporting role, because that's how he rolled that week.  Joe's ego has never recovered, but that doesn't mean he wasn't still capable of putting out some good music.

Don Cartagena features the first credited appearance of his newly-formed group Terror Squad, which had absorbed Pun's Full-A-Clips Crew in its entirety, since Fat Joe didn't like Big Pun to have nice things.  However, he wasn't above charity, so buried deep within the bowels of Don Cartagena is "My Prerogative", a solo track featuring group member Armageddon.  Yep, that's right: even though the credits say otherwise, Large Joseph doesn't have anything to do with today's playlist selection, even though it does appear on his album.

"My Prerogative" is an Armageddon solo showcase on which he both produces and spits two verses and a hook.  The beat consists of shrieks and stabs set to a shuffling drum beat, and sounds much better than I just described: it's pretty dope, and it's catchy enough to grab a few new ears, had the label thought enough of it to try to push it as even just a promotional single.  It's a simple instrumental that barely changes, but the song itself doesn't last long enough for that to become a problem.

Armageddon's verses allow the man to stand apart from his crew, which, at the time, was a sausage-fest featuring Pun and Joe alongside Cuban Link, Prospect, and Triple Seis, most of whom now have their own problems with Large Joseph, having cut ties with the Squad long ago.  His bars, while playful, are full of your typical boasts 'n bullshit, but delivered confidently and skillfully; perhaps the fact that he produced his own song is the reason why he sounds so comfortable behind the mic.  "My Prerogative" is certainly a much more lyrical performance than one would have expected from a Fat Joe album, although, once again, Joe isn't a factor on here, so yay!  

This is essentially an interlude, not unlike the ones from the D-12 albums where they allowed Obie Trice and Young Zee to try to reach a wider audience, but Armageddon makes the most of his three minutes (the last portion of the track is devoted to an skit which, ugh) in the sun by unleashing a monster behind the mic.  It's the kind of track that would have earned Armageddon a cult following had it made its debut on, say, a DJ Clue mixtape, as opposed to on a major label rap album, since I never heard anyone else singing this song's praises when it first dropped.  But that's okay: we can turn that all around today.  Give "My Prerogative" a listen, or if you're already familiar with Don Cartagena, a second chance, and you'll find an enjoyable banger that holds up, even if the rest of the album may not.  (I say "may not" because I haven't yet gotten to Don Cartagena in my ongoing project and don't really remember what most of it sounds like.  But when I finally do, you'll at least already know how I feel about this one song.)

Do you agree or disagree with this selection?  Discuss below.


July 17, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Himanshu - "You Have To Ride The Wave"

Artist: Himanshu featuring Danny Brown and Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire
Title: "You Have To Ride The Wave"
Producer: Mike Finito
Album: Nehru Jackets (mixtape) (2012)

For those of you two who have been waiting with bated-but-not-so-much breath wondering exactly when I was going to reveal the name of that song I heard while on hiatus many moons ago that I thought was an underappreciated banger, if anyone can even remember that thread at this point, today's your lucky day, as I've grown tired of waiting.  Originally, I was trying to work through the Das Racist catalog in chronological order, but even though I only have one album left, they don't actually fit my West Coast theme, nor its Wu-Tang-related exceptions, and besides, I love the song so much that I was going to put it on my playlist anyway.  So I present to you "You Have To Ride The Wave".

Regarding Himanshu (of Das Racist, best known as "the one that can actually rap when he wants to" or, as I keep calling him, "the one that sounds like a less-polished Jadakiss), I've listened to only two tracks off of his debut solo mixtape (or album, depending on your personal criteria), Nehru Jackets.  One of them, "Coca-Cola Freestyle", was played on Sirius XM's college radio station for a while.  The other, obviously, was "You Have To Ride The Wave", which I was drawn to primarily because of the guest list, as my initial exposure to this song happened around the same time I was getting into Detroit's Danny Brown and Brooklyn's Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire.  Today, however, it's probably my favorite Heems solo song, and it features fantastic verses from the guest stars (and also no chorus of any sort, which, huzzah!), but even though that statement makes it seem like I'm selling our host short, he also sounds pretty good on here.  Although I really need to get back to Nehru Jackets, but that's neither here nor there right now.

Everything kicks off with a dialogue sample lifted from an interview between Arundhati Roy and Howard Zinn, one that acerbates the seedy, unsettling feel that the song has anyway, which ultimately gives the song its title, but once the drums kick in, it's a wrap.  Mike Finito, apparently some dude Heems grew up with that ended up producing the entire mixtape, delivers a pounding banger of an instrumental that can't help but to bring the best out in everyone involved.  Danny Brown bats first, jumping in with a fiery performance that almost, almost lives up to his self-proclaimed "rap Louis C.K." boast, bragging that his girl looks like "Jane Fonda" (I'd assume the Barbarella version, but I don't know the guy that well; maybe he really loves Monster-In-Law?), and even tossing in a random Street Fighter II reference that actually made me laugh out loud, no bullshit, when I first heard it.  True story.  I sounded obnoxious and everything.  More so than usual.

eXquire steps intop the booth quickly afterward, chastizing Finito for delivering this kind of heat to Heems but not to him, which was a bizarelly meta touch, right up until he threatens to fuck Finito's girlfriend as payback, which is at least in keeping with eXquire's style (although the way he spits the line, "She's getting dick from me" is pretty funny).  This motherfucker's muthafuckin' verse accurately deconstructs his entire career up to this point, as he positions himself as a "ghetto, yet articulate", well-read dude who talks a lot of shit and is very observant about his place within our chosen genre, and also loves drinking and fucking.  I can't imagine people wouldn't be one hundred percent on board with his antics by the time he gets around to spouting a ridiculous quote, almost immediately qualifying it as "one of them lines Lil' Wayne'd say", his self-awareness at an all-time high, but then again, eXquire is still pretty far underground, relatively speaking, so how the hell am I supposed to figure out your personal preferences?  But I like the guy.

It's only natural, given his Das Racist performances, which were primarily made up of disconnected punchlines, catchphrases, and pop culture references, that you would think Himanshu to automatically be the weak link on "You Have To Ride The Wave", but you would be wrong.  He's actually the reason Daniel and eXquire appear in the first place, since Heems and Daniel also popped up on MFN's "The Last Huzzah (Remix)" (alongside El-P, Himanshu's former rhyme partner Kool A.D., and Despot).  But, seemingly inspired by Finito's monster beat and his collaborators, Heems delivers a ridiculous, but entertaining, verse that sounds like a heightened-but-slightly-more-focused take on his Das Racist material.  He slips into inane material toward the end, but at that point you're most likely going to gloss over the lyrics in favor of the music anyway, or maybe you'll just rewind back to Danny Brown's verse.  

Heems also delivers a long-ass outro that gives credit to the producer, the source of the dialogue sample, his guest stars, and every borough in New York City, because rap.  It kind of sounds like an award acceptance speech, in that Himanshu makes sure to thank everyone that had a hand in the creation of "You Have To Ride The Wave", which was kind of sweet, I guess.  He then lets Finito's beat ride out for the rest of the run time, so that the listener can enjoy the instrumental without further interruption.  I love it when rappers end songs like that, but then again, the music has to actually be good for this to work.

So there you have it.  "You Have To Ride The Wave"  was the tangentially-related-to-Das Racist song I heard that I became obsessed with during one of my many hiatuses.  Now that you finally have the answer to your question, I'm sure you're all underwhelmed as fuck.  To that, I say: just listen to the fucking song, you two.  And if this stirs up more interest in Danny Brown and Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire in the process, all the better.

Do you agree or disagree with this selection?  Discuss below.


July 14, 2015

My Gut Reaction: Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah - Twelve Reasons To Die II (July 10, 2015)

Two years ago, Ghostface Killah teamed up with producer-slash-composer Adrian Younge to deliver Twelve Reasons To Die, an homage to 1960's Italian giallo flicks with an overly-violent storyline and the music to match.  Ghost starred as the lead, who was double-crossed and murdered by the Deluca crime family, but whose ashes were pressed up into twelve vinyl records, and also he somehow comes back to life to take out his enemies.  Hey, I never said the story made any goddamn sense.  But the fact of the matter is that it was entertaining as shit: Ghost and his team (made up of other Wu-Tang Clan members and also Killarmy's Killa Sin) stuck to their scripts and delivered a fantastic, critically-acclaimed concept album that actually told a coherent, if improbable, story, one that lent itself so easily to another medium that a comic book series was also commissioned.  

It was inevitable that a sequel would follow, is what I'm saying.

July 10, 2015

Mack 10 - Based On A True Story (September 16, 1997)

A few years ago, I managed to sneak a review for Inglewood, California's Dedrick "Mack 10" Rolison's debut album, Mack 10 (named, weirdly, after the weapon and not after himself), onto the blog within a post for a related Ice Cube project.  No such luck today: we're going to take apart his sophomore release, Based On A True Story, without having anything else to fall back on, so it's sink or swim time for the Chicken Hawk, or whatever it was he called himself back in 1997.  If you're intrigued by today's West Coast entry, feel free to continue reading.  If you're wondering where that Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge write-up is, chill the fuck out: Twelve Reasons To Die II just dropped today, and ostensibly I would need to listen to the album in order to come up with some thoughts.  It'll happen, though.