Okay, let me explain. Due to the confluence of world events, personal transitions and spotty internet, yes spotty, shitty RCN internet, the August edition is coming remarkably late for this newbie hip-hop blogger. AKA, a month late. Couple that with abnormally hefty professional commitments, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster when it comes to digesting the collective hip-hop output puked out by the blogosphere. I’ll definitely blame this unforgivable procrastination on ISIS and Ebola, since hey, they’re already magnets for so much ill in this world. Why not pile on! Ultimately, I’m saying that what was supposed to be an easy–hell, even casual–project ended up being more challenging than previously expected. Yet, here I am, continuing along naively. Perhaps I’ll get the listening/writing schedule down better, or grow some mammoth chompers to more easily chew what I’ve bitten off.
Alright, down to business. The paid world saw a few old school hip-hop groups come out of the woodwork and put out new albums, with Dilated Peoples dropping a solid new album off and Souls of Mischief, that’s right “93 Til Infinity” Souls of Mischief, releasing “There Is Only Now.” There was also the surprise collabo of Masta Killa with HaLo, an emcee based out of North Carolina. The Underachieves released their new album, which I admittedly had higher expectations for. After listening to a few of their cuts on Soundcloud, I had expected 24 carat hip-hop gold. But all in all, the standout album of the month came from obscurity, and my good friends over at Potholes In My Blog are to blame. Porter Ray, the smoke-cloud emcee from Seattle, WA, got me hooked on his blunted flow and old-school vibe.
Ironically enough, I already knew exactly which free mixtape was my chosen favorite for August, and it was released mid-month. Mick Jenkins’ “The Water[s]” was hands down the best free release I’ve listened to all month, and perhaps one of the best I’ve listened to this year. In terms of other free mixtapes, there were some decent offerings from the likes of Bizzy Crook and Shawn Chrystopher. After a few last minute spin-throughs of Lucki Eck$, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the flows and production, although they still seemed to pale in comparison to Mick Jenkins.
Alright rather than blabber on, as I am prone to do, I figure it’s better if you simply plug that audio jack with some headphones, and get listening. I’ll have September out earlier–I promise!
What To Buy:
Porter Ray “Fundamentals”
“Babylon undercover in the Avalon//Porter Ray and Nate Jack put Seattle on”
August was a curious month for paid releases, simply because I wasn’t really that impressed by the output. Sure, I fully understand it’s pretty dope to see Souls of Mischief dropping a new album after years on hiatus, or even seeing the strong return of Dilated Peoples, but part of this blog’s quest is to elevate the more obscure artists into the limelight. As long as they damn well produce music that jives with yours truly…and they’re ok with the reality that I currently can count the number of blog followers I have on one hand. That’s why last week when I was digging through the blogs, ahem crates, really trying to find something that would stick with me, I was pleasantly surprised to discover Porter Ray’s mixtape, a recent signee to the Sub Pop label which houses acts like Shabazz Palaces.
There’s certainly an old school, cruising in the cadillac kind of vibe to Porter Ray’s album, with starts off from a place that presents itself as a smoky, lazed out, street underworld. On “Dice Game Diagrams”, the opening track of the album, the beats and Porter’s rhymes seem to blur together as if the listener is quickly fading in and out of a dream, with the jangle of the dice vibrating softly in the background. And as the album progresses, Porter’s subject matter, much like the cover of his mixtape, seem to mesh together with a nonchalant and even brazen swagger that feels genuine. There’s plenty of talk of smoking blunts, getting ass, and selling drugs. All of this could easily relegate the album to stereotype status, but it manages to strike an authentic and head-nodding chord that keeps you hungering for the next track.
What Porter seems to excel at most is conjuring up an almost “C.R.E.A.M.”-like nostalgia that reverberates throughout the album. There are, of course, the direct references to this good-ol’-days, looking-back-on-our-money nostalgia towards the end of songs like “Ruthie Dean”. But there’s also an ambience to the album that seems more at home in the early 90s than in 2014. This vibe starts with the background music, heavy on the snare drum, piano-sample, echoey beats and trickles right down to Porter’s rhymes, which aren’t today’s perfectly constructed bars that put you to sleep. Rather they’re fast-paced, ever-changing, occasionally sloppy, but incredibly immersive. Even when selecting a good verse to use at the top of this review, I found it difficult to surgically remove something since there aren’t really hooks, but instead a consistent, borderline stream of consciousness flow. That sense that Porter could damn near well be freestyling out these vivid and descriptive street scenes, jam-packed with words, clothing references and so much more, is pretty incredible.
I’ll be spinning this one regularly to hopefully dissect all that he has to offer. And stay tuned for his first full album release on Sub Pop in 2015. Oh and I almost forgot to mention–this is a Bandcamp purchase so you can cop the album for as much as you choose to give. Happy Thursday.
And if there’s money left in the wallet:
- HaLo, “Mansu Musa (Guest Starring Masta Killa)”: Definitely heavy on the boom rap, you gotta dig this collaboration between Masta Killa and rising talent HaLo. There’s some great guest appearances, and I have to say that the Wu-Tang Clan sound certainly comes through. Plus, who doesn’t love Masta Killa? Homeboy’s got such a unique flow. Purchase It Here.
- Dilated Peoples, “Directors of Photography”: Lovers of “The Platform” will definitely be pleased with Dilated Peoples’ newest release. There’s solid beats, great guest appearances, and that same flow that seems to settle you right back into that 2000 vibe. Yes I know I just blathered on about obscure, beneath the surfaces acts, but hey, it’s Dilated Peoples. Purchase It Here.
What to Download:
Mick Jenkins “The Water[s]”
“My piss aint never been so clear//my pockets never been so empty//my heart aint never been so full//but my stomach is not, so ni**a don’t tempt me”
Last year Mick Jenkins released a mixtape that totally flew under my radar called “Trees & Truths”, which was my first taste of the Chicago rapper. Anytime an album cover seems to break the mold of commercialized garbage that has become all too typical in today’s hip-hop, from pimped out cars to thong-clad women, I usually opt for at least a listen. Needless to say, I’m glad I did. There’s a poetical prowess and complicated subtext that radiates throughout Jenkins’ verses, and although he seems to spit seamlessly, near effortlessly, throughout the tape, his thirst never even seems remotely quenchable. That passion, coupled with a painfully complex flow, sucks the listeners into a tractor beam of captivation, and made many a morning commute a test in active listening. In the battle of intellectual stimulation, Mick always seem to overtake whatever article I was supposed to be reading, providing a profoundness not normally found in free, underground mixtape releases.
At first, I thought “The Water[s]” in some ways was an answer to “Trees and Truths”. His current release seemed to represent Jenkins’ artistic purification and self-reaffirmation, a departure from his previous work where his encounters with hip-hop, much as the name implies, consisted of constant flirtations with temptation and sin. But as I begin to listen more, you begin to understand that this is not a thematic U-turn but a continuation of the same determination, focus and self-discipline that Jenkins exhibits in “Trees and Truths”, albeit through a different metaphor. Water finds its roots in Biblical passages, pagan history and of course, on a much less profound level, hip-hop music. From Bruce Lee quotes throughout Wu-Tang Clan albums to Kendrick Lamar’s references to “Dying of Thirst” on “Good Kid, M.A.D.D. City”, water has always seemed pervasive in the culture. I was nervous initially listening to the album because I thought it would fall into the trap of monotony and rehashed un-originality. Yet Jenkins, channeling his inner poet and his own quest for self-originality, carves out an album that avoids those pitfalls and doesn’t quite sound like anything I’ve heard previously.
There is something beautiful in the musical production, in the multi-layered rhymes and hooks, and this continued dedication to the theme of water, that has kept me listening to the album over and over and over again. Trying to peel apart the layers behind “The Water[s]” has kept me endlessly pondering the messages behind his music. At one level, Jenkins seems to sarcastically comment on the culture of excess consumption by focusing on one of the most available and basic of resources: water. And that water, being the ultimate thirst quencher without any cost, seems to keep Jenkins relentlessly humble in the most basic of senses in hip-hop music: he is filled with artistic richness even if he is economically deficient. There is nothing that Jenkins is trying to bring to the table aside from raw talent, passion and determination. Ultimately, much as the album cover implies, Jenkins seems to be falling deeper into a world so far apart and separate from his hip-hop competition that he’s drowning in his own lyrics. And more importantly, he seems remarkably content to float tranquilly into this downward descent.
There are a million other ways to dive into Jenkins’ mixtape, and I’m sure this review could be substantially longer than it already is. However, I would simply recommend downloading “The Water[s]” right now, as in immediately. It’s time to go for a swim and lose yourself in the current.
If there’s room in the hard drive:
- Lucki Eck$, “Body High”: At first I was skeptical of Lucki Eck$’ new album due to the insane amount of talent already pouring out of Chicago. How could someone with a dollar sign in their name possibly put out anything worthwhile? But after a few spins, Lucki demonstrates his skills through the profound reflection of the grit and crime that plagues Chicago currently. Definitely grab this one. Download it here.
- J.K. The Reaper, “Almost Angelic EP”: Ironically enough, J.K. The Reaper, formally known as J.K. The Rapper, certainly likes sexing up those pretty young thangs. That was apparent on his previous album “A Iller Life”. But here, we’re seeing something deeply more intense, in a very, very good way. One of the tracks isn’t unfortunately available for download (I blame Soundcloud), but download the rest. It’s worth your while. Download It Here.