October 16, 2018

My Gut Reaction: The Roots - ...and then you shoot your cousin (May 19, 2014)

The Roots tend to rank among my favorite hip hop acts. The genre’s most well-known live band has never received the commercial success they absolutely deserve, but the Roots Crew have been critically acclaimed almost from the jump, and for good reason: they’re fucking great. Led by drummer Questlove and one of the best, if not the best, rappers in the game, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, The Roots have been honing their craft ever since their first offering, 1993’s Organix. Through their efforts, Philadelphia is no longer known as a hub of criminal boasts (see: Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Meek Mill), nor just as the hometown of the Fresh Prince. The fact that they appear on broadcast television every weeknight as Jimmy Fallon’s house band on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon is just icing on the cake, a fitting reward for a career well-done. 

But that’s just it: they’re not done.

October 9, 2018

Reader Review: Hilltop Hoods - Drinking from the Sun (March 9, 2012)

(Today’s Reader Review comes from Miguel, who first wrote about the Australian hip hop group Hilltop Hoods (*checks notes*)…damn, nine years ago? Wow. Anyway, here’s the follow up to that review, in which he discusses their sixth album, Drinking from the Sun. Enjoy, and leave your thoughts below.)

October 2, 2018

Reader Review: RBX - The RBX Files (September 26, 1995)

(Today’s Reader Review comes from BrianL, who continues diving into Death Row and Death Row-adjacent hip hop history with his take on RBX’s debut solo album, The RBX Files, which famously featured the man verbally attacking his former labelmates and friends because… Death Row declined to release his album? I never really understood why he turned on Snoop, Dre, and company so quickly. Anyway, whatever, leave your thoughts below.)

September 25, 2018

Something (Sort Of) Different: Mash Out Posse - Mash Out Posse (May 25, 2004)

I will admit that M.O.P. have spent most of their time in the blind spot of my collection. Sure, I’m familiar with the more famous tracks from Lil Fame and Billy Danze’s catalog: I’ve listened to “Ante Up” so many times that I can tell what a film or television director is trying to convey whenever it inevitably appears in their product, as it is by and large the duo’s most popular song. I’ve probably played their collaborations with DJ Premier more than anything else, as I used to go out of my way to compile collections of Preemo-produced tracks before I realized that there already nerds on the Interweb that were doing that exact thing for me. And I generally enjoy whenever they happen to pop up on the songs of their peers: M.O.P. bring an energy that is sorely lacking within our chosen genre, a combination of excitement and pure, uncut aggression that is meant to both hype you up and have you running for the hills whenever you happen to run into these dudes in public, as they’ve honed their personas to a point where they’re just as likely to break your jaw as they are to take a picture with you.

That contagious energy is why Mash Out Posse, a side project recorded with the relatively unknown rock band Shiner Massive when the duo were in label limbo (having left Loud after dropping just one album, Warriorz, in order to set up shop at Roc-A-Fella Records, a move which ultimately didn’t lead anywhere), was something I actually looked forward to hearing when it was first announced. I mean, their best songs already sound like hip hop’s attempt to mimic the style and swagger of rock. “Ante Up” hits harder than many rock acts can manage even today, which is likely why it crossed over into the mainstream so easily. If there was any rapper or rap group that could potentially sound fucking great when paired with crunchy guitars and live drums, it would have to be M.O.P., right?

One would think.

September 18, 2018

Jermaine Dupri - Life In 1472: The Original Soundtrack (July 21, 1998)

I truly believe that most producers and CEOs in hip hop are content with their behind-the-scenes roles, happy to let the artists invade the public eye while they quietly count all of the money. There are obvious outliers, though: folks like Puff Daddy aspire to be just as famous as their young charges, if not infinitely more so. Typically when a producer or label head becomes a star in their own right, however, there’s a field in which they lack: for example, Puffy doesn’t write any of his own rhymes, and the vast majority of his production work is outsourced to his team of Hitmen. Dr. Dre and Timbaland work with multiple collaborators, sometimes all on a single track, and tend to accept full credit when they don’t really put in any of the work. Or you’re Kanye West. But these names represent but a small percentage of beatmakers within our chosen genre: not everyone wishes to hog the spotlight.

Today we’re going to focus on someone who definitely believes he earned his time to shine: Jermaine Dupri. And he may be correct.

September 11, 2018

My Gut Reaction: Black Rob - The Black Rob Report (October 18, 2005)

Pose the question, “Who is the best rapper from Harlem?”, and you’re likely to get several different responses. A younger hip hop head may bring A$AP Rocky into the conversation, or you may run into a fan of Dave East or Smoke DZA. The older demographic may spit out the late Big L’s name automatically, as though they had been waiting their entire life to answer your query, or, just to be subversive, they may throw Cam’Ron into the mix. Someone could throw Azealia Banks’ name into the conversation and honestly mean it. If you manage to get some actual rap artists to participate, you may hears responses as varied as Ma$e, Doug E. Fresh, or Kurtis Blow. You may get a smart-ass who’ll name-drop 2Pac on a technicality. Just know that anyone responding with Herb McGruff is trolling you and doesn’t deserve your attention.

Alter your question to read “Spanish Harlem”, however, and you’ll likely only get one answer: Robert “Black Rob” Ross.

September 4, 2018

Ludacris - Release Therapy (September 26, 2006)

Prior to the release of his sixth full-length solo album, Release Therapy, rapper-slash-actor Christopher “Ludacris” Bridges wished to announce a shift in the tone of his upcoming work. Although better known for boasts-n-bullshit that fell more in the “lightly goofy” category (which his most popular singles portray, such as “Saturday (Oooh! Ooooh!)”, “Southern Hospitality”, and “Rollout (My Business)”), Chris wanted to dive into more serious topics of discussion, and with that naturally comes a different sound. So he did what any film writer would have a character do so to signal the change visually instead of through copious amounts of dialogue: Ludacris cut his hair.

And his braids have yet to returned, even to this day. Which may be more the result of a clause in his Fast & Furious franchise contract than anything else, but let’s pretend it has more significance.