In our beautiful city of Boston, September is a time when us normal city dwellers are suddenly and rudely bombarded by a deluge of bumbling, easily excitable and remarkably confused college students. Blocking the streets with their moving vans, clogging up the public transportation, blasting the melodious sounds of Waka Flocka Flame en route to house parties; the student invasion is cause for us to bid farewell to the summer and reluctantly welcome a period of extreme frustration and passive-aggressive condescension. We mutter under our breath how easily distracted these young people are, and how utterly superficial they behave with each other. Yet who am I to criticize? I was at that same point only nine years ago, and hell, I still think South Park is hilarious and wig out when I hear Biggie’s “Juicy” at a party. I guess I haven’t really matured at all in my post-college years. After all, I’ve committed myself to keeping a monthly blog dedicated to reviewing up-and-coming, quality hip-hop. That’s right in between being an avid collector of Magic: The Gathering cards and becoming a respected, high-scoring Counter-Strike player, in terms of maturity and financial savviness.
Regardless, I digress. September has been a month punctuated by a variety of releases, some holding strong after consecutive listens and others evaporating like a fart in the wind. The world of paid releases was impressive in September, forcing me to Spotify perpetually while I rummaged through the albums of Rittz, , Milo, and everything in between. The highly Atlantacized world of Rittz, best consumed with a side of 1980s Cadillac and a comically-sized bottle of bubbly, simply got too old after 10 tracks, which is barely halfway through the album. On the opposite side of the hip hop spectrum, I found both Milo and Busdriver’s albums, proud representatives of the heady and quirky Hellfyre Club, to be too bizarre for my liking. I wanted to enjoy Busdriver’s weird flows, and do in fact feature one of his standout tracks on this month’s “In Steady Curation” playlist, but found myself struggling to get through his strange beats and even stranger lyrics. Milo’s album I found relatively similar to his first album, Cavalcade, but his monotone mumbling and near oppressive nonchalance wasn’t the intellectual energy I was hungering for. All in all, this month’s favorite release ended up falling closer to the the latter’s brand of intellect rather than to Rittz’s trap music fare, with Homeboy Sandman’s “Hallways” taking the cake.
I’ll be the first to admit that my formula for this blog ends up falling short during a lousy mixtape month. In looking for the standout that would burn out my headphones, like last month’s “The Water[s]” by Mick Jenkins, I kept finding myself to be disappointed. Everything that I listened to seemed alright, but most of this month’s releases couldn’t deliver on replay value. OnCue’s “Angry Young Man“, which kicked off September with the always dope Jusblaze on production, didn’t hold my attention later in the month. I was pretty excited by Dime a Duzin’s new mixtape, but found his title to be watered down in the generic faults of struggle rappers and formulaic hyperbole tracks. Big Krit put out a stellar new mixtape, which I definitely could be showcasing, but I feel that Big Krit has put out hundreds of stellar mixtapes, and I just felt strange offering him up the spotlight again. Although I’m sure I’ll get a lot of blowback for my mixtape selection, I found Huz Kingpin’s and Rozewood’s new tape “100$ Taper” to be surprisingly addictive.
Ok, enough describing and more reviewing. Onto the hip-hop reviews!
What To Buy:
Homeboy Sandman “Hallways”
“The street don’t want him around he too deep//the deep don’t want him around he too street.”
So I’ll be the first to admit it: this is my first full Homeboy Sandman album. The longtime Queens poet, darling of hipster hip-hop heads, Stones Throw heavyweight; no, I have been exposed to virtually no Homeboy Sandman since my entry into hip-hop. I think for a long time I avoided listening to Homeboy Sandman because of Pitchfork’s obsession with him, which in turn, not-so-secretly highlighted my own problem with Pitchfork’s entire music platform. Surely, someone who was so heavily favored by the most quirky, condescending and exclusive of music review sites, couldn’t possibly have an actual niche in the hip-hop world? From this selfish and proud vantage point, I considered Homeboy Sandman to operate beyond the acceptable boundaries of hip-hop, not really having a space in the hip-hop I knew and loved. Yet, after my reintroduction to hip-hop several years ago, there has been no denying that my own musical boundaries have shifted dramatically through artists like Action Bronson, Freddie Gibbs, Big K.R.I.T. and Chance the Rapper. After listening to “Hallways”, and reading Homeboy Sandman’s “Black People Are Cowards” commentary in Gawker, he has carved out a space of hip-hop that is not only acceptable, but coveted. The poetry, the commentaries, the ironic inner dialogues–Homeboy Sandman in some ways has become the meta rapper in the hip-hop game, sardonically commenting on the world of hip-hop from a perch of humor, self-deprecation and poetic analysis.
Backed by the powerhouse Stones Throw Records (J Dilla, Mayer Hawthorne, Madlib), Homeboy Sandman is one of the few hip-hop artists on the label that has really embraced a more whimsical approach to hip-hop. After first listen, “Hallways” strikes you as his chuckle-inducing, sarcastic self portrait that takes a magnifying glass to social grouping, the plague of first world problems and the state of hip-hop. There are verses that leave a grin on your face in songs like “Enough”, such as “Ho, ho, ho Kwanzaa and hannukah//school of hard knocks had hall monitor” or the more unique political messages conveyed on tracks like “America, the Beautiful” where Homeboy notes “A public defender, appointed to every pauper//Affordable Jet Blue//Any one of you can board a flying saucer.” I listened to this track damn near five times before realizing that, without any hint of sarcasm or America lapel pin on his suit, Homeboy Sandman was rapping about the head-smacking lack of global perspective rife in the American public. The basic message was summed up by a later verse: “We are the 99 percent locally//we are the 1 percent globally.” As a guy that makes his living convincing the American public of the power and educational value inherent in travel, this song will either convince people to take a much-needed “reality check” trip overseas, or adapt a weird, hip-hop-flavored strand of ethnocentrism and xenophobia. Perhaps I’ll get Homeboy to comment here…
What’s best about Homeboy Sandman’s album “Hallways” is that there is an amazing level of replay value and hidden passages buried in his music. I wouldn’t say that you’re going to tune into the album because of the production, because at the end of the day, what stands out consistently is the quality of the verses and the poetry. “Hallways” could well transform into “Labyrinth”, as you dissect his verses and carefully digest the lengthy theses behind each of his songs. Each track represents a different corridor to stumble through, with a plethora of doors and potential passages, or to the first-time listener, perhaps just a simple journey from point a to point b. I found myself becoming more and more intrigued by discovering who Homeboy Sandman was and what defined his identity. This quest to learn more about someone as a complex character doesn’t always happen when I’m listening to hip-hop. Rather than put himself front and center on his album cover, he shrouds his own face behind a geometric pattern of shapes and lines, akin to the hallways he’s traversing, but also reflecting the segments of his own identity, and the forces that define it. His status as a meta-rapper stands out when he does the opposite of most other recognized heavyweights: acknowledging his own ignorance, his own state of constant change, and his own humility. He’s certainly not out to be the hyperbolic, laundering money kingpin rapper, nor the socially conscious, street poet that’s very in tune with the violence, social challenges and poverty in his neighborhood.
Homeboy Sandman is…well he just is. He doesn’t want to be grouped into any category or genre, or to be defined by the boundaries imposed on him by an industry that has become less about artistic expression and more about economic consumption. Don’t let Homeboy’s humor, sarcasm and self-deprecation distract you from the power of his critiques and his observations. There are a lot of hallways to explore in that mind palace of his. Best to get your hall pass and start the journey now.
And if there’s money left in the wallet:
- Anti-Lilly & Envy Hunter, “REdefinition”: This one came out of left field thanks to my astute friends over at 2Dopeboys, but I was pleasantly surprised after a few spins. This obscure southern rap duo reflectively touch upon the challenges of the rap game but also tell some mean stories over some very head-nodding beats. There are some gems that will keep you coming back for more. Purchase It Here.
- The Black Opera, “The Great Year”: For those of you unfamiliar with this mysterious collective, The Black Opera is a group of hip-hop artists that refuse to reveal their identities. They mask themselves as a way of showcasing their music rather than their egos. As a result, this album manages to cover some ground in their lyrical content. Plus who doesn’t like opera samples in your hip-hop beats? Purchase It Here.
What To Download:
Hus Kingpin & Rozewood “100$ Taper”
“I never seen the angel’s wings//til I seen the Lamborghini doors raised on the block by the drug kings”
If there was ever a diametrically opposed hip-hop album comparison on In Steady Rotation’s short history, this might have to take the cake. In the first section “What to Buy”, I recommended that you all cop Homeboy Sandman’s album “Hallways”, an album, much like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, led me out of the darkness of the money, sex and drugs hip-hop world and into the light of a meta-rapper’s ironic, sarcastic commentary on hip-hop’s current state. And in this section, please forget all of those fancy words and intellectual commentary. Plug in the headphones and embrace the damn kneejerk irony of unbridled hardcore rapheads rappity rap. Yes, I am advocating that you all must now download an album that falls on the polar opposite end of the hip-hop spectrum, the world shrouded in a cloud of marijuana smoke that’s counting stacks of cash in a tenement building in Queens. But much like Your Old Droog or Roc Marciano, Hus Kingpin and Rozewood’s collaborative album is a near stream of consciousness style of gangster rap that feels like a mixtape that you’d find in a street gutter, with a half-peeled off sticker that says “1995”.
I don’t mean any of what I just said in a negative way. I really struggled in selecting a clear-cut classic of a mixtape this month, reviewing all of my options endlessly, trying to select something that felt like a genuine quality piece of hip-hop music. After listening multiple times to Hus Kingpin and Rozewood’s mixtape, I was once again smitten with nostalgia, and finding myself still trying to pick out the meaning and poetry behind what many might consider old school gangster rap. But as I’ve realized with today’s current state of hip-hop, I’m bored by the corporate takeovers of gangster hip-hop, the endless stream of yawn-inducing, predictable verses that really doesn’t have a place in the world of hip-hop. There’s something contrived and utterly monotonous about tracks that talk about holding chrome and riding in the beamer all the time ready to pull back the heat. Hus Kingpin and Rozewood, much like Your Old Droog, have aspirations to be Tokyo Dreamin, but they’re the first to acknowledge that this is roughin-it, gritty hip-hop grime.
The verse listed above in many ways really does convey the perfect intersection of the gangster hip-hop that I’ve come to love and appreciate. It’s not so much the un-imaginative, commercialized gangster rap that feels like something a few suburban white guys said would sound good in their Chevy Tahoe, but a more poetic and cinematic portrayal of street life and the hustler’s grind. 100$ Taper takes a not-so-subtle page out of Raekwon’s playbook of intense visual imagery, mafioso nostalgia and blunted beats, but still manages to make it their own. When I listen to this mixtape, I start to imagine scenes from New Jack City, showing the slow buy steady rise of Wesley Snipes as he makes his way up the drugdealers ladder as Nino Brown. The tracks of “Black Columbo” and “Dark Caesar” quite literally allude to the imperial notion of the album’s endeavor, seeking to build an empire out of both hip-hop and the drug trade. But at the same time, on tracks like “The Purge”, Rozewood and Kingpin elevate themselves beyond the material limitations of their project and quite literally seek to purge their competition through a religious embrace of “real hip-hop”. There is the implied notion that this brand of gangster hip-hop is the only form worthy of discussion, and finds its genuineness from the bottom up, not the top-down.
The last track that I feel perfectly embodies Hus Kingpin and Rozewood’s album is “Hourglass”. There is something quintessential about the flow and the hook “I see the hourglass//through this ski mask//the fiends give us feedback.” Of course, there is the cocaine dreaming and the hustle, but the beat and the flow captures the gangster, trapped-in-the-90s styling almost a little too well. All in all, I can’t say more than I already have, unless I want to bust out the sociology books and putting footnotes in this blog, but I can only hope that you’ll enjoy this mixtape as much as I did and continue to. Let the imagery and the blunted feel of their tracks whisk you away to a world apart.
And if there’s room in the hard drive:
- Jet Life Recordings, “Audio D”: Awwww snap it’s #jetlife! Curren$y’s hip-hop collective Jet Life are some fresh-ass mofos when it comes to dropping some trapped in the 90s joints that feel Cadillac convertible-bound. It’s a similar nostalgia that I describe above, with some beats that simply must be turned up as high as possible. Hot off the press: board your jet and pop some serious bubbly baby! Download it here.
- Quest, “Searching Silvan”: If there was ever a tearjerking and introspective portrait of a rapper, Quest’s new mixtape “Searching Silvan” might be it. Quest at one point in his career seemed to have the opportunity of a lifetime, but the Miami rapper now has to rebuild his credentials and rapping chops. Lots of good stuff on this pretty extensive mixtape, especially with some of his more insightful tracks. Download it here.