June 26, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Drake - "5AM In Toronto"

Artist: Drake
Title: "5AM In Toronto"
Producer: Boi-1da
Album: Non-album single (2013)

Aubrey "Drake" Graham is an unavoidable presence in today's incarnation of our chosen genre.  He's overexposed to a fault, too easily meme-able, and even with his money and alleged power, all of those acts on his vanity label aren't ever going to manage to do any-fucking-thing, but thankfully, he does have some good-to-great songs under his belt.  "5AM In Toronto" just so happens to be one of them, conveniently enough.

The second in a series of tracks which depicted the self-proclaimed 6 God running through his thoughts at a given time and place (the third entry was released this year on his free mixtape-turned-contractual-obligation If You're Reading This You're Too Late, which I will get to eventually), "5AM In Toronto" was leaked as a way to promote his then-forthcoming third full-length album Nothing Was The Same.  It easily bests pretty much everything on that fucking album that wasn't "Started From The Bottom".  And just like that hit single, "5AM In Toronto" finds our host putting aside his too-emotionally-observant schtick in favor of shit-talking and making vague threats, as rappers are wont to do.  However, "Started From The Bottom", a song I will go officially on record as liking quite a bit (Mike Zombie's beat makes the track, in my opinion, and I prefer the extended mix with much more instrumental that you can easily find online), came packaged with the punchline "But you didn't actually start at the bottom, Jimmy from Degrassi: The Next Generation, you son of a bitch", which tore away at Aubrey's credibility just a tad bit.  

"5AM In Toronto" has no such issues: you are listening to a man who has reached a higher level of success than he had dreamed of, with no sign of stopping anytime soon, and his rhymes reflect that shift in his lifestyle.  Over a pounding Boi-1da beat (which he created with assists from Khromatik and Vinylz) with easily the hardest drums Aubrey has ever been connected with, our host delivers one long-ass verse that kicks off with the line, "You underestimated greatly", and keeps dragging out example upon example afterward.  Confident braggart Drake is much more appealing than the crying Drake that makes frequent appearances on his albums: even without his acting background coming into question, he actually has earned all of his success, and it's hard to take all of that away from him.  This is why an otherwise-corny line such as "I could load every gun with bullets that fire backwards / You probably wouldn't lose a single rapper" works for him, even though conjuring up an image of Aubrey Graham rolling his wheelchair through the hood on some drive-by shit of his own makes everyone laugh uncontrollably at its absurdity.  Drake isn't getting anywhere near a water gun, let alone something that could actually cause some damage.  

With the aggressive tactics, abrasive and cocky flow, and his boasts 'n bullshit, Drake positions himself as a force to be reckoned with behind the microphone.  I realize that sounds preposterous and I probably just lost a few readers, but here's the thing: I don't hate Drake.  Never have.  I certainly make fun of him a lot, and I don't care for a lot of his dealings with other rappers I actually don't like, but Aubrey has used the short period of time he's been successful (post-mixtapes) to hone his craft, and his writing has only gotten better.  "5AM In Toronto" is just a catchy-ass song, with a fucking contagious beat that will make you nod your head, until you shake the same head in disagreement with the knowledge that he left this song off of the same album that produced the atrocious "Worst Behavior", and oh man, does that song blow.  But we'll always have Toronto.

Apparently Drake shot a low-key video for "5AM In Toronto" that I had never seen before today, so that's the clip I included above.  It's nothing special, but it exists, so.

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


June 23, 2015

My Gut Reaction: Czarface (7L & Esoteric + Inspectah Deck) - Every Hero Needs A Villain (June 16, 2015)

In 2013, the Wu-Tang Clan's Inspectah Deck teamed up with an underground producer-rapper duo, Boston's 7L & Esoteric, to record a full-length collaborative project, building off of the chemistry they established while working together on the group's song "Speaking Real Words".  Due to their mutual love of comic book imagery, I guess, the side project, detouring from the career paths of both parties, was named Czarface, and featured hard-hitting beats from 7L (and an assist from the one and only DJ Premier, a fact I had literally forgotten about until just now) for Deck and Eso to talk shop over.  They invited some of their closest friends: Eso brought in the underground cats, while Deck hired on Ghostface Killah and Cappadonna (although he probably also had a hand in the Primo production, too).  When the project was completed, I didn't give that much of a damn, not being that great of a fan of 7L & Esoteric, and Deck's solo career had topped out at fucking Uncontrolled Substance, but I listened to Czarface anyway, and goddamn, that motherfucker was good.

So a sequel was a foregone conclusion.

June 19, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Showbiz & A.G. - "Represent"

Artist: Showbiz & A.G. featuring Big L, Deshawn, and Lord Finesse
Title: "Represent"
Producer: Showbiz
Album: Runaway Slave (1992)

I imagine this entry may alarm a few of you two, given the fact that this isn't a CZARFACE write-up (calm down, it's coming, I just have to actually listen to the album first) or because of the artists involved, but don't worry, this doesn't mean that I'm skipping over the Diggin' In The Crates duo Show (as he goes by now) and A.G. in this ongoing silly-ass project I'm in the middle of.  It just means that I didn't want to wait any longer to write about "Represent".  I'm sure you all will understand, and if you don't, listen to the track above and they get back to me.

Showbiz and A.G. released their first full-length album, Runaway Slave, in 1992, about six months after dropping their debut EP, which made a minor dent in the hip hop landscape at the time, but whose effects are still being felt to this very day.  Three tracks off of the EP migrated over to the proper album, but one song that didn't make the cut was the posse cut "Diggin' In The Crates", which not only gave their extended family an official group name, it also showcased the natural chemistry between the various members of the crew, represented on that particular song by producer-slash-rappers Diamond D and Lord Finesse.  Show and A.G. recorded a follow-up for Runaway Slave, the aforementioned "Represent", which featured fucking killer verses from A.G. (Showbiz doesn't spit on the song, perhaps foreshadowing his later level of involvement with the duo's catalog), Deshawn (with the only verse he'd ever record under that name: he's also known as Terror Squad member Sunkiss if you care about that kind of shit), Lord Finesse again, and, lo and behold, the late Big L, with what was only his second professionally-recorded verse (he had made his debut on wax earlier that year on a remix of Lord Finesse's "Yes You May", the original version appearing on Finesse's Return Of The Funky Man). 

Over a knocking Show beat with ridiculous distorted guitar samples that work and drums that knock into one another militantly, each member of the quartet manages to manhandle the eleventh track on Runaway Slave while still leaving enough music for the next guy to destroy.  Which is exactly what they do: this shit is considered a classic by hip hop heads for a valid reason.  Accompanied by a vocal sample from "Catchin' Wreck" (which appears on both the EP and the proper album), and after an extended introduction on which each player is introduced, Big Lamont Coleman (R.I.P.) unleashes one hell of a verse, one I would categorize as "Nas on 'Live At The Barbecue'-hot".  It also happens to contain the two bars I always think of whenever Big L pops up in my brain: "L is the rebel type, I'm rough as a metal pipe / Fuck a Benz, 'cause I could pull skins on a pedal bike".  Sadly, it seems that Big L only gets posthumous love these days from bloggers, critics, and DJ Premier on Twitter whenever he's not promoting, well, everything, and I urge the two of you to reverse that trend.  "Represent" is a good place to start.  And it's not even my favorite verse on the goddamn song.

Deshawn also is no slouch, but he easily gets lost when standing amongst the D.I.T.C.  His verse is interesting, though: it has a "Kid Hood on A Tribe Called Quest's 'Scenario (Remix)', but he didn't get murdered shortly afterward"-quality to it that rap nerds will appreciate.  And, skipping ahead to Andre the Giant's long-ass contribution, on which he gets meta about his own catalog and boasts about being "pro-Black" by choosing to marry Oprah Winfrey instead of fucking with the White devil, which is an increasingly-dated attitude to stand behind (the White devil thing, not Oprah), but thankfully, he doesn't spend all that much time on the topic, choosing instead to talk his shit.

Speaking of shit-talking, Lord motherfucking Finesse, the funk soul brother, contributes my favorite verse of the track, chock full of punchlines and swagger that most hip hop heads keep forgetting that he excels at.  Lines such as "Talking about fucking n----s up when you can barely beat your dick right" and "Stevie Wonder [would] probably see me before half you rappers can" are just fucking funny, and Finesse delivers the lines effortlessly, as though he spends all of his time coming up with comebacks on the spot, which he probably did back in the early 1990s.  Seriously, his verse is the tits.  Is it better than Big L's?  Come on, you two, you know I don't compare that way.  But I do like Finesse's shit better on here.  That's not a knock on anyone else present on the track, but it is what it is.

Anyway, Showbiz and A.G. delivered a mixtape-friendly hype beast of a track that boasts chemistry that most rap crews today not named the Wu-Tang Clan would love to show off.  If you're unfamiliar with their work, start with "Represent".  Just fucking do it already.

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


June 16, 2015

The Max-Approved Mixtape So Far: Tracks 1-20

Today's post is a placeholder of sorts, buying me time while I try to get something together, but I also figured that, at twenty tracks in, it would probably be nice to compile all of the songs that make up my mixtape-slash-playlist at the moment.  This way, you two have one central location to bitch about my choices and to speculate as to what you think will come up in the future.

If you want to read my thoughts and/or stories regarding each selection, click on the links below.  Otherwise, I suppose you could just stare at the links and wonder what each song sounds like, although I can't imagine that would be any fun.

The tracks are presented in order of their post dates and not in their order of importance in my mind, in case you two were wondering.

June 12, 2015

My Gut Reaction: Black Knights - Medieval Knights (January 14, 2014)

With the passage of time, I feel confident in saying this: it sucks to be affiliated with the Wu-Tang Clan.  I'm sure it must feel amazing at first, standing on the sidelines and forming alliances that can lead to instant popularity, record deals, and maybe actually releasing an album or two.  But once the high wears off, or once Wu-Tang figurehead The RZA decides that he just can't, the artists are dropped into the Wild West that is the music industry, left to their own devices.  Some of them managed to prosper: Killah Priest parlayed his Sunz Of Man membership into a solo career that, while not exactly successful, still produces albums, and... well, that's the only real example I can come up with.  Everyone else strug... maybe Shyheim?  He released a few albums on his own before retiring or whatnot.  Anyway, everyone else struggles to maintain relevancy (or, in one specific case, the ability to keep their penis attached to their goddamn body) within a musical genre that is constantly rewriting the rules of acceptance.

Enter the Black Knights.

June 9, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Big Noyd - "All Pro"

Artist: Big Noyd featuring Infamous Mobb and Prodigy
Title: "All Pro"
Producer: Havoc
Album: Episodes Of A Hustla (1996)

I want to say it was 1995.  After Mobb Deep's sophomore album, The Infamous, hit store shelves and reinvented the duo's sound forevermore, collecting all of the critical acclaim and record sales in the process, Tommy Boy Records began to run ads for a project called Episodes Of A Hustla from an artist named Big Noyd.  The campaign hit full steam once one-sheet promos appeared in the bigger hip hop magazines of the day (The Source and Vibe, mostly, but there were others), as the label tried to capitalize on Noyd's successful cameos on his brethren's masterpiece.

Then Rapper Noyd got locked up in the clink during the recording process.  Hoping to minimize their financial losses, Tommy Boy quietly pulled their ads and released Episodes Of A Hustla as an EP in 1996.  The only reason I figured out this EP was even a part of this plane of existence was because of a throwaway comment I remember reading in some magazine, at which point I immediately absconded to the local Best Buy to find the motherfucker.  Failing that, I checked at a Musicland (which is what the chain was called before Sam Goody took over, at least in my neck of the woods), and, finally, that Blockbuster Music that I always seem to come back to in my stories, which helped me fulfill my destiny of being one of probably six fucking people at the time that actually wanted to buy an EP from one of Mobb Deep's friends.

Episodes Of A Hustla is fucking great, by the way.  Spread the word: I've been trying to do that for the past eight years on the blog.  The EP features a fruitful marriage of beats with rhyme: even though Rapper Noyd, who took his name from one of the biggest enemies of pizza history, isn't the greatest writer, back in the mid-1990s, when this shit was recorded, his excitable, boastful flow was pretty goddamn amazing (see: Mobb Deep's "Give Up The Goods (Just Step)", which still contains one of the finest cameos in the annals of our chosen genre), and when paired with Havoc's beats, everything became that much more entertaining.  Crime tales and boasts 'n bullshit took on a new life when energized with Hav's sinister instrumentals, especially the Hav that was in between the two greatest peaks of his career, The Infamous and Hell On Earth.

"All Pro" finds Havoc at his most experimental, turning in a catchy-as-fuck (and, dare I say, goofy) beat that sounds absolutely nothing like what you would have expected from the team that brought you two "Shook Ones Part II".  It's quirky, it's melodic, and it probably isn't for everybody, but I found it to be dope as shit, and it was the first track I gravitated to on the EP.  It doesn't hurt that it features guest verses from two-thirds of the Infamous Mobb, the merry band of weed carriers that also spun off from the mothership, and a performance from Havoc's partner-in-rhyme Prodigy, who flows effortlessly, as he was wont to do back in the nineties.  But it's Rapper Noyd who absorbs the music's idiosyncrasies, shouting out his extended family (every last member, too: Karate Joe is mentioned at one point), whose specialty is "vulturin'", by the way, and building upon the promise that "Give Up The Goods (Just Step)" teased at.  

Of course, Noyd's career essentially peaked after this shit, but it's intriguing to wonder what could have been, had he had the opportunity to record a full-length album for Tommy Boy, who most definitely had a bigger promotional department than any of the indie labels Noyd found himself bouncing around post-incarceration.  Oh well; at least Hav and P kept their boy busy, for the most part.

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



June 5, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Cappadonna - "Supa Ninjaz"

Artist: Cappadonna featuring Method Man and U-God
Title: "Supa Ninjaz"
Producer: True Master
Album: The Pillage (1998)

Perennial weed carrier-slash-gypsy cab driver Cappadonna may have exceeded the expectations of those of his ilk, as he is officially considered to be the tenth member of the Wu-Tang Clan, a late addition spurred by his solid, if not scene-stealing, appearances on tracks by Wu generals Raekwon and Ghostface Killah.  Hell, the group's ringleader, The RZA, liked him so much that he helped the man release his debut album, The Pillage, on Razor Sharp Records (a label I understand he recently RZArected (I see what I did there), although the only act signed at the moment appears to be Nathaniel, that crooner that contributed heavily into fucking up A Better Tomorrow).  Which isn't a big deal, except for the fact that Cappadonna released his own solo record before Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa, and even has its share of hardcore fans, at least given the weird amount of sudden interest in The Pillage on my blog's page views.

However, as karmic comeuppance for his short-lived success, he gets absolutely slaughtered on his own song by U-God.  Fucking U-God.  And this was before Golden Arms started taking his pen game more seriously (read: Dopium, The Keynote Speaker).

Fucking 1998 U-God.

I suppose he never really had a chance, though.  "Supa Ninjaz", the fifth track on The Pillage, just so happens to contain a verse from Lucky Hands that is, in my humble opinion, the best he's ever done, hands down, no bullshit, followed closely by a Method Man contribution that shines like the goddamn sun, as he promised that his second album "T2: Judgement Day" was coming (it hit store shelves seven months later, albeit with the title Tical 2000: Judgement Day, but he was close, for fuck's sake) while reminding both hip hop heads and critics alike that the dude could be fucking nice when he gave a shit, and Method Man is nothing if not a team player.

True Master's instrumental uses its hard-hitting drums to grab your attention, while Baby Uey and Johnny Blaze chant "rock your body, body" during the intro, which I know sounds dumb as hell when you read it, but trust me, this shit works.  Too well, in my opinion: it lulls you into a false sense of security, one which U-God rips to shreds with his opening verse, possibly the first time I ever thought the guy had actually earned his spot in the Wu-Tang Clan.  

There is no personal backstory here: I discovered this track during my first listen of The Pillage, which I had picked up from a Circuit City (remember those?  I kind of miss them) the day of its release.  (I also remember stopping at a Burger King on the way home that day, in case you care about such details.)  The Pillage dropped at a time when I felt the Wu could do no wrong: even their misfires had many jewels hidden within them, I wholeheartedly believed as a lifelong stan.  Obviously, I was proven wrong with the march of time there, but "Supa Ninjaz" stands firm amongst the better Wu-Tang posse cuts in hip hop history.

Also, I like Cappadonna's verse.  Not as much as the others, but the track still bangs.

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