Larger-than-life MC Quadir Lateef has been nice for years, which is something I can say, having been acquainted with the man since Howard University, where his penchant for spoken word and writing were apparent. While I’m always glad to see a Statik Selektah joint getting burn, it really feels good to see the Ruff Ryders imprint back on the scene putting out the same gritty and true-to-hip-hop material they were known for when they initially kicked in the door on the rap game.
A personal selection off of this month’s The Art Of Rock Climbing, on “Liquid To A Solid”, former Cool Kids guest Boldy James delivers his standard monotone wit-and-grit combo over sinister production to cook up a crime anthem that rides beautifully.
The once reclusive Ukrainian-American MC Your Old Droog is back with a banger for the top of the year with “G.K.A.C.”, an alarmingly gritty telling of a police shootout in the vein of Slick Rick’s classic “Children’s Story”, but off a dust blunt. Clearly, Droog is not messing around on his sophomore album Packs, due out March 10th.
While a ragtag band of some of the sorriest excuses for rappers of all time squabble in what constitutes “rap beef” in the modern day, it’s good to know that in 2017, real heads can still count on the art to sometimes win out over the business of rap. In addition to Run The Jewels’ 3rd album currently in rotation, we now have this to rock to for a while. On Shadow The Jewels, DJ Skarface takes some classic DJ Shadow cuts and blends them with Run The Jewels’ first LP.
I absolutely and without question consider my 2011 interview with Camp Lo a feather in my cap when it comes to writing about rap music and pushing the culture forward, so I always check for new music from the Bronx duo both on the strength of them being dope and for giving me that opportunity as an up and coming (and still there, honestly) music journalist. On “Piece of the Action”, we get a version of Camp Lo very similar to the Camp Lo we got in 1997 on the critically acclaimed Uptown Saturday Night. Even in 1997, Geechi Suede and Sonny Cheeba had a knack for combining thematic elements from ’70s Blaxploitation culture with a stream-of-consciousness delivery that was way ahead of their time and thus, still sounds great today.
This isn’t a review. It’s more of a “you know what grinds my gears” moment regarding young music fans/critics and today’s mainstream music consumption. Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love is getting some tremendous buzz currently and the social media snowball effect is in play, right alongside J. Cole’s new album. Praise for both at times just has me looking at certain critics and wondering when their appreciation for music started and if they’ve actually heard anything before that date.
I’m going to come clean for those who aren’t aware – I’ve never been a fan of Childish Gambino. I first heard him on Camp and I found that I just didn’t care for his story. The whole “I was too nerdy for the Black kids – look at me, I’m awkward!” shtick just tended to wear on my nerves, just as his character on Atlanta sulking through every episode rocking his angst like a Pelle Pelle killed all of the non-Paper Boi scenes for me. He comes across way too often as if he’s trying to assert himself as the smartest guy in the room without just relegating himself to the straight-man role. Musically, though, I’ve always felt a twinge of guilt about not liking the guy. A lot of my respected peers like his work and technically, he can rap – I just don’t care about his story. However, I did hear him sing once and liked it, so when I heard he was doing more of that on Awaken, My Love! (and this is probably the last time I’ll be writing that title with the exclamation point intact), I decided to make a conscious effort to approach it with new ears – and I did.
While I was slow in being put on to this (it was out in 2014), it’s not entirely my fault. I realize we’ve come to a point where music videos aren’t life-changing events the way they used to be. We don’t talk about them the way we used to. In the visual for Chet Faker’s “Gold”, in what seems like a throwback to when alternative rock videos used to be uber-cerebral, the viewer appears to be peering out of the back of an old car driving down a deserted highway at night. The scene is perfectly set for horror until the first of three immensely skilled roller skaters glide into view and proceed to mesmerize you for the rest of the video, gliding effortlessly down the highway to a steady, bluesy groove.
Rap Revisited is a new series I’m working on where I take some older rap albums that shaped my hip-hop fandom and see how they held up over time in review form. I think it’s only right that Capone-N-Noreaga’s classic, critically acclaimed debut album The War Report be first up.
Growing up in the Bay Area during the east-west rivalry at the time this album was released in 1997, no one around me was checking for this album or for associated acts like Mobb Deep or Tragedy Khadafi due to the beef and regional bias, which unfortunately lead to me not discovering this album until I moved east for college in 2000 (Howard). Coincidentally, C-N-N performed at Howard Homecoming the same year, performing “Bang Bang” and other records just before the release of The Reunion the following month. I copped The War Report out of curiosity, having seen it labeled a classic by respected sources (at the time, literally The Source), and it’s remained at the top of my list of favorite rap albums ever since.
As I jam through this A Tribe Called Quest album, I can’t help but share this gem. I’m listening to it front to back like in the olden days, but I haven’t even made it past track 6. Q-Tip is a genius and Andre 3000 really needs to put a solo LP out and put the kibosh on any doubts that he’s a top tier MC.
Boston’s Dutch ReBelle drops some new heat right on time to carry us through this post-election shock, despair, ambivalence – whatever you’re going through. I will keep it a hundred and warn that the intro build’s a little drawn out and grating on the ear, but it’s worth the wait for this ultimately solid, laid-back head-nod.