Tuesday, August 21, 2007

...NYG'z Interview Up...

NYG'z interview I did is up over at the Phila now. Check it out, find out what Primo's up to, here about their sessions with Lil' Fame, etc. www.philaflava.com/q&a.htm

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

...Double Up...

Making an effective double album is always something with which hip hop artists have a difficult time. I'd call it a "lost art," but the truth is it has never really been done to perfection in this genre in music. I'd comment on other genre's which have produced great double albums, but the only ones I can think of are very obvious jazz records and shit, so I won't bother tryin' to impress people with a knowledge I really don't have. But rather than just writing a straight forward review of Underground Kingz, I have whimsically decided to look at the history of the hip hop double album and try to place UGK's new joint amongst them, somewhere. Well the first official one we all know was 2pac's last pre-posthumous, tribute to his own work ethic, All Eyez On Me. Now this is an album steeped in lore, from an era where hip hop artists selling multi-platinum wasn't really no thang, and dropped soon after Pac's release from prison, and not long before his untimely demise. While there is plenty of filler on this joint, there were also plenty of anthems, bangers, and hits. Even if the album as a whole isn't a magnum opus, it probably contains at least a good third of what should be Pac's greatest hits.

Biggie's Life After Death has similar highs and lows, really only getting bogged down with all the skits and a few unnecessary collabos on the second disc. Like Pac's double joint, if reduced to one album it would be the artist's undisputed classic release. As it stands I prefer Ready to Die slightly, although the eerie moments on Life After Death, You're Nobody Till Somebody Kills You (etc) still hit me like nothing else in music. Overall there's a good argument for Life After Death as the GOAT of hip hop's double albums, but for me, it's not quite there.

Wu-Tang's Forever is perhaps the only instance of a rap double album not being overly ambitious. When you have a nine member crew with an in-house super producer, with his own set of production disciples at your disposal, plus more rhyming affiliates, you should really drop a double album every two fuckin' years like clockwork. That said, this is another candidate for the best hip hop double. Ultimately there are a couple throwaway songs, but for a magnum Wu opus, it's hard to beat.

Dipset's Diplomatic Immunity, like Wu's Forever, relies heavily on the group's large rhyming crew and an in-house production team (Bootleg Just Blazites The Heatmakerz). What the album suffers from is too many half-assed rhymers, only good for an occasional hook or catch-phrase, but not worthy of their own songs. Interestingly enough, none of Dipset's members have ever made another record that approached the overall vibe and enjoyable campiness of this record.

To me, Jigga's Blueprint 2 and Nas's Street's Disciple aren't worth more than a cursory mention. Even by combining the best of their two disc albums, you still don't get an album on par with their greatest achievements. Time has not treated either of these albums very well, and both were severely tainted by the artist's scattered approach to the album, and the lack of a cohesive production mold or team.

Looking at Underground Kingz, through my scientifical reviewing methodationologiness perfected over the millenia of my life, I have devised that there is actually no filler on this album. Instead what we get is New South crossover attempts, with varying effectiveness. What I mean is that all 26 songs on Underground Kingz are worthwhile in one venue or another, but they don't all fit the mold of what people have come to expect from UGK. The "country rap tunes," that C & Bun are so famous for make up about two thirds of this album, with the remaining third reflecting less traditionally UGK-esque production techniques. A big reason for this development is the fact that this is album has less Pimp C production (although he does co-produce a lot of the tracks) than any of their previous efforts. However, one can hardly be upset when N.O. Joe, Three 6 Mafia, or Scarface step in to take up the production reigns. What will cause long-time UGK fans some headaches are the Jazze Pha, Lil' Jon, & Swizz Beatz inclusions. And it is fair for die-hard fans to be a little upset by the inclusion of these outside influences (certainly didn't work well on Dirty Money), but UGK has new fans as well. The inclusion of more modern southern producers gives some of the material on the album the same type of vibe as a lot of the shit that Bun B has been guesting on over the last four years. It is for those younger UGK fans as well as younger rap fans in general that UGK most likely made this concession (their label probably loved it too).

Neo-South contributions aside, it is that classic UGK sound that grounds the record and makes it equal parts spiritual introspection and pimped out street funk. In the end what we have is one of the best southern rap albums of the last ten years. Maybe not better than Aquemini, but close to on par with The Dude, Just Tryin' Ta Live, and The Fix. Sonically, and stylistically, it harkens back to an era when Southern rap still had some spirituality and soul. Hustling, pimping, and flossing are all common topics on this album as they are throughout hip hop these days, but they are covered in the same fashion UGK has always approached them, realistically and with a conscience. It's too soon to throw this album in the cannon of classic southern rap albums or the discussion of what is actually hip hop's greatest double album, but it's not to early to crown it one of the best albums of '07.

...Still Jackin'...

I still don't have audio capabilities right now (computer at home is down, and my work computer has all file sharing sites locked), but that didn't stop me from jackin' this treat from Just Blaze. JB's demo version of Jay-Z's Cam/Dips/Dash dis "Dig A Hole." I don't know, this was actually one of the few Swizz Beatz tracks in the past few years that I actually didn't mind too much, and Blaze seems a little stuck in his overly dramatic horn beats era. That said it's better than most of Blaze's recent work, and provides an interesting alternative to the album version. Enjoy.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

...I'ma be cool. Why's that? Cuz Kindergarteners was looking up to me in Pre-school...

It's funny when an album actually lives up to the hype, but with the exception of the actually pretty good Dirty Money, UGK has an extremely consistent track record of greatness. Regardless of this fact there is an odd aura around UGK. For lack of a better term this, "aura," seems partially related to the fact that they've had a great deal of respect in the South for years, but still may be relatively unknown, or underappreciated, by many die-hard rap fans. So you have the haters, and you have the die-hard UGK fans, and then you have the late-comers. Face it, nobody likes a New-Jack-Come-Lately, but none of that should undermine the actual achievements of the Underground Kingz.

Another issue old fans may have with the new found appreciation of the crew is "where has all this appreciation been all these years" factor. UGK's most influential work was done on their first two albums Too Hard to Swallow and Super Tight, when they laid the foundations of the Southern sound along with groups like The Geto Boys and Outkast (Kast, of course, also sites UGK as a huge influence), and their most classic work was done on Ridin' Dirty, and all of this shit happened over ten years ago. Dirty Money, label issues and all, was their least impressive opus, and that preceeded the lock-up of Pimp C. So why is the interest in this record, especially on the internet, in 2007? Well, the South has been the flavor of the month for the last four years or so now. Unlike their East Coast reppin' counterparts, Southerner's seem enjoy sharing the love a little bit, which I think is a big reason for their dominance in recent years. Then there was Bun B's relentless four year barrage of the mixtape and cameo circuits, combined with "Free Pimp C," which helped create more buzz than UGK's 10 years of stellar material from 92-02 plus "Big Pimpin,'" and "Sippin' on Some Sizzurp" ever did.

But I understand the apprehension and the dissent to some extent. It would kind of be like if somebody came up to you and told you Too $hort was the greatest rapper of all-time and his new album was going to be an undisputed classic. Or like a huge hype machine growing around a new Scarface album. Everybody can agree these artists were/are incredibly influential, and those that have heard their music, cannot deny that they made/make classic hip hop music, but their best work is also probably behind them. To hype an artist fifteen years after the hype machine should've been working for them full-force catches people off guard, and raises skepticism. I'll follow up with a review, but let me just say, there's no reason to be skeptical. Underground Kingz bumps front to back, with only a couple exceptions (and you might even like those) that fall outside the album's general feel. And for a 26 + bonus tracks album to be this consistent front to back is extremely unusual, maybe even unique in hip hop history. I'll save the rest of my grandiose statements for the actual review, coming very soon.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Old Hip Hop Is A White Thing (Pt. 2)

Aight... now to the actual performances...

EPMD put on a great show. I wish they'd cut Pharoahe or Black Star's sets a little shorter and let Erick and Parrish rock a few more classics, but I do acknowledge that most of the audience had NO CLUE who EPMD was, yet knew "Respiration" and "Desire" by heart. I feel like I'm still young enough where I shouldn't feel old at these kind of shows, but I can't help it. It was slightly disappointing that Redman didn't come out at all for EPMD's set, I can only attribute this to the fact that he must've arrived later in the day (as he did run out for "Da Rockwilder" during Wu's set). They made brief mention of their new album (no label or details) We Mean Business, which they claim will drop this year (and since Redman and Keith both held their word and dropped this year, I wouldn't be surprised if EPMD pulls it off too - probably on Koch if I had to guess). My only question is, "Can we get a new Def Squad album?"

Public Enemy can still kill it. Although Terminator and the Bomb Squad are no longer down, and they perform with Chuck's band (can't remember the name off hand) they still have the same energy they've always had. Griff is back in the fold (I don't know how long that's been the case... maybe as far back as '98... but I know there was a minute there where he wasn't down), and the militia still does their steps. I've seen some people bemoan the fact that Public Enemy does their sets with a band now and I have to say there are pros and cons to that approach for them. "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos" for instance, sounds much better with the original beat. "Bring The Noise," of which they performed the remix version (with the guitarist from Anthrax, whose name I always forget) and most of the other songs where the band interpolates the original beat, sounds as fresh as it ever did.

Flava Flav was clearly on drugs, which was fine during his usual adlibs and hype man antics, but by the time Chuck turned over the stage to him, Flav had clearly lost his mind. His performance of "911 is a Joke" was delayed for several minutes, as he brought out his children to introduce them to the crowd, and then commenced the longest "yeeeeaaaaaaaaah boooooyyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeee" that his lungs could allow, which Chuck thankfully cut short by starting up the band, about fifteen seconds in. Flav promptly got pissed at Chuck, told the band to stop, nd made everybody wait as he did a full thirty second long rendition of the phrase, followed by a James Brown style "Hit me." Maybe the two yells killed his breath, or maybe it was the drugs, but he certainly couldn't keep up with his own lyrics on "911." After "911," as the band was leaving the stage, he asked "Where's everybody goin? That's it?" Following his own question he said "Soundman please don't cut me off, I want to play a beat." And he proceeded to bang out a pattern on the drum set for the next five minutes or so, at which point he said something else and finally left the stage. xxlmag.com acted as though these were planned "neo-minstrel antics" (their words, not mine), but I'm fairly certain they were not planned, as the look on Chuck's face was one of utter disappointment in his old friend. Griff looked downright disgusted. All in all it definitely took something away from PE's otherwise stellar stage set.

The Roots murdered the stage as they always do, and I will say that I think Black Thought is the best live performer in hip hop. He's so smart with it, wasting no extra energy on wall-climbing or crowd surfing or other relatively pointless crowd pleasing antics he walks the stage with the swagger of an old big band front man (which is what he is). Years of performing both hip hop and non-hip hop songs at shows has made him an unfuckwitably versatile pro. He never has to yell, he never loses his breath, and he never disappoints. They dropped arguably the best set of the night, performing several joints off all their albums post Illadelph Halflife.

As great as The Roots were, I will make a point to never miss another Cypress Hill show, after seeing their set on Saturday. I have to admit I'm not a huge Cypress fan anymore. I have their first three albums, all of which are classic to near classic status, but after that I kind of lost interest. Mainly my lack of interest has to do with the fact that they said everything on their first three albums that they would say on subsequent releases, but they did it better back then. All that aside, B-Real and Sen are masters of the stage show. From the first song, to the Buddha break (with a huge blow up stage idol of Buddha with a pot leaf on his chest), to the percussionists "Hit(s) from the Bong," to their undisputed crackerishness anthem "Rock Superstar," they reigned supreme on stage and were really the only act that competed with The Roots for set of the day.

Wu's show was slightly dissapointing to me in some ways. It was great seeing all of the living members on stage together (GZA actually showed up about half way through the set I think, but they were all there... plus Cappa and Streetlife). Method Man still has more energy than any of them, and INS is definitely losing his voice. The highlight to most of the young crowd (probably because they remember the song, better than anything on 36 or Forever) was Red running out to snatch the mic from Meth just in time to do his verse on "Da Rockwilder." They really should've given Red his own set. And as dope as it was to see "Fish," and "Ice Cream" performed, I was a little dissapointed that Wu didn't do even a snippet of anything off 8 Diagrams or Cuban Linx II.

Biggest WTF moment was them performing "Duel of the Iron Mic" without GZA (I don't know why he wasn't on stage at that point, but I'm pretty sure it was Masta Killa doin' his own verse and GZA's). They did a good, if unoriginal, job with their memorialization of Dirty, having the crowd shout along to "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" similar to the way Jay-Z memorializes Big. All in all this might be the last time I get to see the remaining eight on stage together, and I was glad to get the opportunity, but it ain't the same without Dirty. And I think it was Bol over at xxlmag.com who said seeing Wu-Tang as a whole live is more like seeing Method Man featuring the Wu-Tang Clan. Meth's presence and energy is sooo much greater than the rest of the Clan at this point, that they can really play nothing more than a supporting role.

I didn't stick around for much of Rage, because I knew that's what the 30,000 plus crackers came to see, and this cracker was getting back to Harlem before the mass exodus created fourty-five minute bus lines. But what I did see was impressive and just like I expected. Anybody who has seen one of their live show DVD's knows the deal. So I stayed for a couple joints and bounced before the moshpits consumed the whole crowd in dreaded white stinkiness.