Yes I know–June is clearly about two weeks behind schedule and you’re probably frustrated by the tardiness. And you’re also probably peeved that those July temperatures are causing you to melt into the sidewalk and your air conditioning bills are starting to chip away at your hard earned savings. Summertime can be both a wonderful and terrible thing, especially for the typical New Englander. God, we’d complain about diving into a pool full of $100 bills, wouldn’t we? Fortunately, I’m not posting late due to a paucity of good June music. I would actually say it’s quite the opposite–there have been a slew of stellar albums that came out in June, and some that maybe haven’t crossed your radar. I attribute part of this to my recent visit of UGHH.com’s headquarters on Columbus Avenue where I spent an hour or so immersed in their vast library of more obscure and underground hip-hop releases.
I will, in the spirit of full disclosure, also acknowledge my inherent bias and point out that this month’s reviews are invariably skewed towards a nostalgic joy-ride through more old-school hip-hop sounds. From John Robinson to Your Old Droog, both artists capture the essence of blowing off dust an old LP that was buried in your record collection, and then throwing it on the turntable. The key difference here is that they both just released their albums in mid-June. And damn do they make for perfect listening slogging through the thick urban haze of a humid summer day. However, there are also other gems in this month’s selections, especially with the British emcee Little Simz’ awesome mixtape “E.D.G.E.” and Alex Wiley’s new release, “Village Party”. Plus, although not included on the recommendations, artists like Nikkiya, Damani Nkosi, and Hawk House, definitely put out interesting albums that run the gamut from a funky take on R & B to electronic hip-hop. Enjoy the reviews below and don’t forget to check out the soon-to-be-posted “In Steady Curation: June Edition”. Keep those headphones booming with the best. Amen.
What to Buy:
John Robinson & PVD “Modern Vintage”
“Take me to a place where the drums are born/and these songs were never sung before/we build with newness”
You can be pretty sure with a title like “Modern Vintage”, there’s going to be something distinctly old-school about this album. It could be the traditional snare drum samples, that familiar old school flow or those always amazing positronic hip-hop vibes that bring us back to the days of classic Tribe or De La Soul. This can always be a dangerous exercise, trying to emulate the greats and hark back to a sound that seems better placed in the golden era. You leave yourself open to imitation or redundancy, criticisms that have on more than one occasion been leveled at emerging artists like Joey Bada$$ or Elzhi. Despite the minefield that can be creating that golden era sound, John Robinson and PVD rise to the challenge and surpass expectations.
The opening track of the album “Mic Check” bounces with a funky, head-nod-inducing jazz sound, seamlessly adapted for hip-hop consumption. You can tell with John Robinson’s flow, he’s comfortable riding the beats and has been rapping for some time. There’s no awkwardness or sense that he’s trying his hardest; it seems to come naturally and his subject matter could not be better for a more quintessentially summer album. Although I’m not personally acquainted with Robinson’s expansive discography or previous work, I was told by the dude working the checkout counter at UGHH.com that he’s put out a range of albums in the last 5 years. This one, he assured me, had managed to go above and beyond his previous output, and that almost everyone was grooving to it in full effect.
Throughout the rest of the tracks, with standouts like “All of the World” and “Off The Wall”, Robinson pays homage to the greats that have come before him, checks his own privilege of traveling the world, and then ties together the two ends of his project: modern and vintage. Each track, produced by PVD, is laced with old school hip-hop and jazz samples, and Robinson’s authentic rhymes are what seem to place him into the modern. He doesn’t try to put on the facade of hardness or swagger, he simply highlights his own ambitions to paint creative rhymes and keep things lighthearted. In many ways, I feel as though Robinson is conscious of the fact that he’s making a summer album, and wants to keep that theme throughout. He gets sad at times, and sometimes falls into a more introspective nostalgia, such as on tracks like “Miles & Train”, but stays on point for the majority of the project.
Bottom line here: it’s old school, funky, jazzy hip-hop goodness done right. Plus, it’s on Brick Records, a local Boston label, so it even meets my “Buy Local” criteria, right after I finish up shopping at Market Basket instead of hitting the farmer’s market. For pete’s sakes, pick this bad boy up and enjoy a summertime album that wont disappoint.
And if there’s money left in the wallet:
- Ab Soul, “These Days”: I’ve always been a big fan of Ab Soul, ever since he dropped “Control System” in 2012. His newest album is his attempt at an even larger perspective on modern society, while still embraces the ironic reality of his, and other rappers’, situation. The album is long, but it’s definitely worth the full listen, and you should cop it if you have the dough. Purchase it here.
- Open Mike Eagle, “Dark Comedy”: Somewhat of a strange figure, Open Mike Eagle’s newest album is brought to us on the always quality Mello Music Group label. It’s a pretty unique approach on already unique subject matter. As it says on their website, “Dark Comedy” is “mostly about the failure of Karl Marx’s Proletarian Revolution.” I’m not sure if fully captures that sentiment, but it is pretty incredible. Purchase it here.
What To Download:
Your Old Droog “Your Old Droog EP”
“She knew I would smash her Little Debbie and I still bagged the Hostess”
The pile of pennies next to the scratchy pen writing on the cover of Your Old Droog’s mixtape serves to shatter any preconceived, hip-hop pretensions. This isn’t an album about showcasing your hip-hop riches, your diamond-studded chain or your decked-out whip; ladies and gentlemen, this is a classic, no frills hip-hop mixtape. Fresh out of Coney Island, Your Old Droog seems to be out to impress through the grimiest of spitting and perhaps court interest through a well-crafted guise of mystery. He did seem to magically come out of the woodwork, blowing up Soundcloud with his gruff voice, and leaving barely any time for people to speculate on his potential identity.
From the opening track of the mixtape, “Quiet Storm Interlude”, Your Old Droog invites us into his gritty underground world of smokey haze, dark studio booths and bluesy samples. You can almost smell the weed that permeates the vinyl surfaces, dim shadows and red glow that surely captures his recording studio. He continues through the mixtape spitting both intensely and casually over “Nutty Bars” and “Loosey in the Store with Pennies”. Your Old Droog creates a sound that’s reminiscent of silverbacks like Roc Marciano or Raekwon–it seemed to fluctuate between his shameless embrace of down-in-the-gutter poverty and the rich, layered mobster storytelling that filled old Wu-Tang tapes back in the 90s.
He still has fun on the album, getting lighter on songs like “Droog’s Anthem” but manages to turn the heat right back up once it transitions to “Gunsmoke Cologne”. It’s worth noting that the production on the tape is simply stellar. It samples awesome jazz, funk and soul songs, and somehow, through its simplicity, manages to feel more complex with Droog’s relentless spitting. In many ways Droog comes out sounding like a veteran of the game, someone who’s been at this for longer than most other emcees, and just recently managed to put out this killer EP. You see that through the diversity of each song, solid consistency with each bar, and the overall airtight cohesiveness of the project. This may be Droog’s first EP, but hot-damn is it a good start. Check it out!
And if there’s room in the hard drive:
- Little Simz, “E.D.G.E.”: Despite my previous month’s mixtape selections all seemingly coming from North Carolina or down south, Little Simz hails from across the pond. Her flow and mic presence is stellar, and despite being only 20 years old, could easily go toe to toe with Nikki Minaj or any male spitter for that matter. Her name is Simz the dinosaurus, and she will be back, bitch. Download it here.
- Alex Wiley, “Village Party”: I have to say, this album has been growing on me with each listen. I managed to see Alex Wiley live in mid-June, literally days after this mixtape was released. Despite being a little awkward on stage and there being a shitty crowd, the Chicago MC still managed to hit hard with a few tracks. There is a rich diversity across this album, and it’s definitely one of my month’s favorites. Download it here.