For those of you that diligently put your hard drives under your pillow on July 31, I fully apologize that the hip-hop fairy has come so unforgivably late this month. From countless apartment visits to working longer than expected hours, I’ve admittedly fallen off a little with my hip-hop consumption during July. And the World Cup happened too, which totally interrupted my routine-based equilibrium. But these early weeks of August have served as “Paul plays catch-up to hip-hop listening”. It’s been quite the whirlwind of unbridled hip-hop consumption, but I’m feeling much better about discussing the month’s best releases.
Initially, July seemed to be full of hip-hop throwbacks, from Common’s new album to bold new offerings from Cormega and Awar. Perusing the list of new releases felt like a time warp back to 2003-2004. Despite these rap heavies putting out quality work, there seemed to be slim pickings in terms of purchase-worthy projects in July. I of course enjoyed the mesmerizingly deep, drawly voice of Illa Ghee as he spit on his new album “Social Graffitti”, and even MarQSpek & Blockhead’s “JustPlayWitIt” was a boom-rap fueled, energetic adventure. But I never really felt like there was a hands down, head-nodding, this-is-the-best album of the month.
There was a little bit more to discuss on the free release side, with a range of pretty solid mixtapes that ran the gamut of musical styles. From more standard but quality joints like Le$ & Cookin Soul’s “Ace” to Issa Gold’s awesome solo project “Conversations with a Butterfly”, there seemed to be something for everybody. There was even a re-release of the Procussions self-titled LP for free on DJBooth, a real gem if you get a chance to download it. You’ll see my favorite ended up being the very unique and complex “MTV1987” by the ever strange and talented Kevin Abstract. As his name implies, tradition and convention are both nonexistent cards in his deck, creating an album that is never flat and constantly growing on you.
Check out the lineup below!
What to Buy:
Has-Lo & Castle “Live Like You’re Dead”
“Hey girl I see you in those yoga pants/I know that you don’t do yoga”
I’ve been a pretty loyal follower of Mello Music Group ever since I discovered Oddisee, Diamond District and Apollo Brown. The overwhelming majority of their label signees are incredibly talented artists and it’s always a refresher to read album synopses that sound like half-college thesis and half-artist statement. Here’s a quick nugget picked from Has-Lo and Castle’s album description on MMG’s website: “Born and bastardized from a grim quote, the album is the Philly and North Carolina MCs letting go of fear in its many forms, and laughing in the face of Death.” And honestly, that’s a pretty good summation of the comical, but rhyme-soaked landscape that dominates each track.
Given that this isn’t the first collaborative album that Has-Lo and Castle have put out, it’s easy to tell that they’ve developed a chemistry that’s quintessentially fun but still predicated around putting out solid rhymes. The beats aren’t incredibly complex or lush, but that’s purposeful as the focus of the album rests on the shoulders of the two emcees. The humor on the album definitely comes through on tracks like “Yoga Pants”and “Hennessey-Yak Rap”, the former their humorous observations around beautiful urban women, the latter a satire of the hardcore, monotonous industry rappers. The random singing, the side commentary, and the goofing off keeps the album interesting and engaging.
Overall, Has-Lo and Castle seem to endorse setting inhibitions aside and most importantly, being yourself. Through their comical observations, side commentaries, and mockery of the standard, they, perhaps unknowingly, manage to assert their own authenticity and rap chops. It’s a different type of rap album, that may not resonate with more traditional rap heads. But for those who appreciate Aesop, MF Doom, or the like, you will certainly find something fun to listen to on “Live Like You’re Dead.”
And if there’s money left in the wallet:
- Illa Ghee, “Social Graffiti”: Illa Ghee, apart from having the deepest voice I’ve heard since Biggie, is an amazingly adept rapper. There’s something incredibly serious about this album, as witnessed through the cover where Ghee maintains a “don’t-fuck-with-me” expression. My personal favorite track is the Large Professor-produced track “90” which is an old-school hip-hop head’s wet dream. Purchase it here.
- Cormega, “Mega Philosophy”: What you thought I wouldn’t include Mega? Well think again! Cormega, probably one of my all-time favorite emcees, doesn’t disappoint on his newest album. From the opening head-banger, the album psy homage to the mid-90s, classic sound that defined quality hip-hop from Queensbridge, while still waxing observational about the current state of hip-hop. Purchase it here.
What To Download:
Kevin Abstract “MTV1987”
“My baby says I do too many drugs/My Mama says I’m lost up in this world”
Funnily enough, I happened to see Kevin Abstract the same evening that I was introduced to Michael Christmas and I watched Alex Wiley lackadaisically perform “Village Party”. Coming on stage, the young Corpus Christi rapper donned a headband that accented his bright, pink afro, only to be complemented by his super-tight skinny jeans. I had no idea what to expect since he was one of the few individuals I hadn’t researched prior to going to the show. His complete nonchalance and self-deprecation emanated immediately as he stomped around the stage, mumbling song introductions and warning us that we’d probably be disappointed. There was no question that the “Abstract” was central to his identity, from his content to his appearance. The moment when my curiosity turned to captivation, was when Abstract wrapped up his set by melancholically singing Cassie’s “Me & You” as part of his track “Drugs”. There was something both so indifferent and utterly sentimental about his crooning, and the monotone bars interlaced with the chorus. You could see that he put on a teenager’s aloof facade, but there was something emotionally profound and deeply intelligent about his music.
When Abstract released MTV1987 last month, I downloaded it late one night, and admittedly, forgot about it until late July. I decided to start spinning it in early August and I realized that I had been sleeping on an immensely complex project. There’s notes of Frank Ocean, Kanye West, and Joey Badass, among a range of sounds that simply defy categorization. There’s a reason that the album cover captures a pink, punk jacket that Prince or Michael Jackson might have donned, while having that image framed in the geometric familiarity of an Apple window. The album opens with typing on a computer, and then starts on a pretty dark note, that blends some pretty dark production with even darker lyrics. With his passion for technology, he of course laces every track with heavy synthesizers and voice alterations that only seem to highlight a general disconnect with Abstract and reality.
But as you move through the project, you can start to sense that Abstract isn’t necessarily clinically depressed or drowning his sorrows in a booze-drug fueled haze. There is emotion, caring, introspection and even a hint of optimism coursing through the rest of the songs. It’s almost as if when he really immerses himself even deeper in his work, that he starts to really care about what he’s creating. There’s an indication that perhaps his music is what’s keeping him out of the deepest pits of despair, rather than the drugs or alcohol. Yes he obsesses over women, his family woes, his use of drugs and other depressing themes. Yet he still doles out songs that are richly layered with different ranges of emotions and introspection, not especially loyal to any one theme or thought. Be sure to give it a few listens as it make take time for it to grow on you.
And if there’s room in the hard drive:
- Saba, “Comfortzone”: Saba is one of the many emcees coming out of Chicago these days, keeping Chi-town at the center of a booming and explosive rap scene. Saba raps with a strange flow, that at times sounds like Kendrick or Chance, but still keeps his air of originality. There’s plenty of introspection and the cover of the album, with his face enveloped in the universe, only reinforces that notion. Download it here.
- Issa Gold, “Conversations with a Butterfly”: The Underachievers have been blowing up the blogosphere lately, and I’ve only heard amazing things about their newest album which I have yet to listen to. However, I can say that Issa Gold’s solo project delivers a short punch of solid hip-hop jams. Showcasing his versatility and energy, Issa demonstrates that he can hold his own without his partner AK. Download it here.