Masai’s Music Monday: 518 hip hop in review

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The following is a guest post by Masai, originally titled, “The world’s longest 518 hip hop review that you will ever skim through and ignore.” Masai appeared on Lofi Lobo‘s radio program, the Capital Coup, this past Friday at WCDB and Lobo was gracious to share the archived audio with us at KAB. Thanks again to Masai and Lobo!

A few weeks ago I gave a local record label coordinator/rapper a ride home. When he got in my car and heard whatever album I was casually bumping he lamented, “Gee, you really do listen to local music.” I thought it was an odd observation since I consider myself pretty vocal about how much I enjoy local music. After all, my closet looks like a shrine to bearded wordsmiths and alcoholic cliques. My bookshelf and coffee table are cluttered with the broken fragments of CD jewel cases from dozens of local artists who I know and respect. And if it’s a Friday or Saturday night you can usually find me being an obnoxious fan at a half dozen local venues showing support. If I haven’t annoyed you on social media with my constant stream of local songs, videos, and promotions than you’re probably not following me on any sites. So why, I wondered, would it even cross somebody’s mind that I didn’t actually listen to the music I laud so much?

Listen to the WCDB show and hit the jump to check out Masai’s reviews:

Then it occurred to me that most people are full of shit. We claim to recycle, but when people aren’t looking, we litter. We tell people to go out and vote even though we can’t name one senator. We brag about supporting local businesses when our pantries are filled with enough Wal-Mart bags to get us through an apocalyptic ice age. So maybe I’m in the minority for actually enjoying the music I support… even if some of it sucks. There. I said it.

One thing’s for sure, however. Music, particularly hip-hop, in Albany and the surrounding area is at an all time high in terms of both quality and quantity; even though sometimes amidst the quantity it’s hard to actually locate the quality. That’s where I’d like to humbly chime in. The following projects, which have all been released since roughly January of this year, cover a broad range of styles and niches within the local rap scene. You’d be hard pressed to find one person who loves it all. I sure as hell don’t. But I can appreciate what each of the artists below brings to the table in terms of diversity, skill, creativity, authenticity, and artistry. And I appreciate it even more because I live within 45 minutes from any one of them.

Now last time I wrote down my thoughts on the local hip-hop scene I got a lot of praise and a lot of backlash. In fact, some people literally don’t speak to me anymore. Just know that I’m aware there’s a ton more music that I either haven’t heard, didn’t think was worth mentioning, or just didn’t feel like writing about. I’m not claiming to be an authority on music, and acknowledge that I’m totally biased in a lot of respects because I am a part of the scene. But it’ll take a lot more than that to get me to stop writing down my thoughts. I’m a writer; that’s what I do. So take it for what it’s worth: One fat guy’s opinion of the music he listens to all day long while sitting at his work desk.

Masai’s Non-Inclusive January – April 2013 Local Hip-Hop Recap

Immortals by SMGs (DarkStar and Juice Mega): This album’s strengths are in its weaknesses. It’s extremely cohesive because it’s similar throughout and doesn’t deviate from the course. You know how artists say, “There’s something for everyone on my album”? Well SMGs would say “Fuck you. If you don’t like this song, you’ll probably hate the next dozen.” And then they’d steal your wallet and give your little brother a wedgie. Both MCs are skillful and consistent. Both of them vibe well together and compliment the other’s verses throughout the album. They remind me of Mobb Deep… but that might only be because there’s two of them. The track “Welcome To Schenectady” is a personal favorite of mine, mainly because Schenectady hasn’t welcomed anybody in at least a hundred years.

Breaking Point 2 by KassCrook: I’m a fan of KassCrook. So much so that I gave him honorable mention in my “Top Five 518 MC” article from last year. I also may or may not have a KassCrook tattoo on my lower back. Kass is a decent writer with a great voice and an appealing delivery. He lacks consistency at times, but for the most part his songs and verses are on point (Oh, snap! I just realized that’s probably where he got the idea for the name of this mixtape). He’s young and hungry, and his most recent release shows growth and development from its predecessor. I suspect that this will be my favorite Trusic Music release, possibly until Ses Da Great’s album drops later this year. If you’re new to Kass, I suggest you hit up his Bandcamp page and listen to my current favorite track, “Can You See.” Seriously. Do that.

Climate Control Winter Edition by Shyste (Produced by Deejay Tone): Shyste is a big deal. If you’re a local artist and you don’t know who Shyste is, or haven’t at least heard of his name, then I’m gonna go ahead and say you’re not paying attention to your own scene. He’s been making music in the 518 for a long time and hosting the Bottles & Beats Open Mic night at Bogie’s with Deejay Tone for the past few years. Shyste finds rapping so easy that this year he decided to drop four original EPs. FOUR! And that’s in addition to a handful of other releases. I can’t wait until next year when he drops 6 double albums, 8 maxi singles, and a Christmas vinyl. His first 2013 EP was the Winter Edition of Climate Control, and by the time I post this article the Spring Edition will nearly be released as a follow-up. The Winter Edition is a little on the short side… until you realize that it’s essentially only a quarter of the Climate Control project. “If You Move” and “Hard Times” are incredible songs from this edition, and if you’re looking to explore his music more, you might wanna start there.

Sime’s 2012 Tape by Sime Gezus: Sime’s 2012 Tape is my favorite mixtape of 2013, even if the year in the title is a misnomer. I dare anyone to show me a recent local release with a more diverse line-up of artists. When’s the last time Broadway Jay, Dezmatic, Juicemega, and Origin were on a mixtape together? There’s so much awesome talent crammed into this project that it kinda reminds me of “We Are The World.” The first one. Not the shitty remake that Wyclef did for Haiti. Seriously… what was that? The extended Bandcamp version of Sime’s tape has 30 tracks; way too many for an album, but just right for a lengthy mixtape. My top picks are “Stand Up”, “Eleven Eleven” and “Look Up.” Rumor has it Sime has another tape coming out this year as well.

Sophy by Sev Statik (Produced by PJ Katz): If beards could talk Sev Statik’s beard would tell the greatest tales, and the story of Sophy would probably be one of my favorites. The Sophy EP combines several notable elements. For starters it’s free. It was also penned by one of my favorite song writers. Sev remains honest and eloquent without being gratuitous or vulgar, and he does it in a way that’s undeniably “hip-hop.” To top it all off, the instrumentals were provided by world renowned producer and Hot Fries mascot, PJ Katz. What more can I say? It’s 5 great songs. Listen to them all, and watch the recently released video for “I Believe.”

I Am Legend by Legend: I like this mixtape. It’s just a good ass “rap CD.” Legend has a great voice, a commanding microphone presence (which probably stems from his background as a battle MC), and a witty mind. Plus when I hear songs like “Pro Bowl” I’m confident that he’s creative enough to produce clever songs without falling into the trap of so many “battle rappers.” Unfortunately, I Am Legend doesn’t have enough songs with topics, or even themes. Fortunately, however, it’s a mixtape – not an album; so it doesn’t really matter. When you listen to this release, you will get a series of banging beats accompanied by hard hitting lyrics. And in the wise words of Chris Rock, “Ain’t nothing wrong with dat!” But tracks like “Struggling” make me think that when his album finally drops he’ll be up to the challenge of providing some much needed content to his already compelling arsenal. Time will tell.

THE NOTHING by The Nothing: Because I’m a HUGE racist obsessed with the racism and races in general (I even have NASCAR bed sheets), I’m gonna explain The Nothing in terms that my fellow racists can appreciate. Close your eyes and think of your four favorite rappers. If they were all white, then that means you’ve recently listened to THE NOTHING. This three song EP-thingy features the combined talents of Dezmatic and Dood Computer (Pig Food Records), who join forces with Shyste and Mic Lanny (Final Word Records). Throw in three top notch producers (Vanderslice, Jack Of All Trades, and Rawthreat) and one DJ so great that his last name is actually “Da Great” (DJ Nate Da Great), and you’ve got a recipe for, well, NOTHING. And since it’s only three songs in length, I’m gonna go ahead and let you decide which one is my favorite. Here’s a hint: Fuck you.

Good Cop, Bad Cop by Mic Lanny (Produced by Deejay Tone): Mic Lanny’s an impressive rapper and, technically speaking, a great rhymer. He puts words and syllables together in a way that very few local artists can, and he does it all while conveying his own morbidly entertaining thought process. Good Cop, Bad Cop was in my top 3 most highly anticipated local releases of 2013, and with that anticipation comes some pretty high expectations. It nearly lives up to those expectations, but falls short in one area, which I’ll address in a moment. But first I want to say that this album is still my favorite full length local album released this year. Tone’s production has gone to another world on this project, and Lanny’s verses on songs like “Dreams to Nightmares,” “Diamonds and Rust,” and “Bad Man’s World” are awe inspiring. The choruses (either sampled or rhymed) sound thought out and not clumsy (something I think local artists tend to struggle with). Oh, and with features from the likes of Manifest, Shyste, DePhyant, and Gorilla Tao (to name a few) he’s definitely in good company. Despite all of this, somehow I think Lanny’s charisma and personality get lost in the mix. Songs are all but devoid of improvisation, dialogue, interjections and asides that might add some depth to Lanny’s otherwise stoic and deliberate delivery. The album covers a range of moods and emotions, but Lanny doesn’t always reflect that range emphatically. So while his lyrics will most certainly appeal to the listener, his nuances (or lack thereof) might not encourage them to listen as intently as they should. What the fuck did I just say? I think I said I appreciate Mic Lanny as a writer so much that I hold him to an impossible standard. And I’d love nothing more than for 100,000 people to buy his album and tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. There are very few people locally who could put together an album of this caliber. But if you’re lucky enough to catch a Mic Lanny show, or have a few beers with the dude… you might catch wind of what’s missing from Good Cop, Bad Cop – even if it is the best full length LP released locally in 2013 thus far.

Isaac Berry by I.B. (Produced by Chambers): I.B. is an MC who I really hadn’t heard much of until the release of Isaac Berry. Because of that, I dove into his album with virtually no expectations. That worked in his favor as I.B. comes out of left field with a solid release that I think very few people were expecting. And he does it with the help of Scott Chambers, an underrated producer who has also retained an eerily low profile up until recently. Starting with an impressive a cappella intro, the album never loses its momentum. Its strengths are in the individual verses, the diverse featured artists, and the striking production. Its weaknesses stem mainly from a lack of defined concepts, and some questionably constructed choruses. Because of this I found it somewhat lacking in replay value. Nonetheless, Isaac Berry should deservedly elevate I.B.’s rank within the FWord army. Two tracks that really stood out for me were “As I Step Out” ft. Dead Wrong, and “Press Rewind” ft. JaJa Gibore.

New Jack City pt 2 by Luca Sand: LUCA SAND’S KEYBOARD HAS HAD THE CAPS LOCK BUTTON LIT SINCE THE DAY HE BOUGHT IT. So when he types something online, you either read it intently, or scroll past it because it’s obnoxious. His mixtape is the same way. Luca is easily one of the most confident MCs in the 518. His voice is dope and reminds me of Sheek Louch and Beanie Sigel back when they were relevant and determined, and he’s equally commanding on stage. If you’re turned off by his intense (and at times cliché) delivery, then you’re bound to miss some pretty clever bars, like those throughout the songs “Thriller” and “Somebody’s Got To Die” (not to be confused with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Biggie’s “Somebody’s Got To Die”). He’s a little over the top for my taste on this tape, but then again I had a scone and a cappuccino this morning for breakfast, so I’m hardly his target demographic. Even some of his more laid back tracks like “The World” and “Who Am I” could serve as workout music. This mixtape is not for the faint of heart, and that’s not necessarily to its detriment.

Ear Food Vol. 1 by PJ Katz: Remember in the 90’s when Puff Daddy pretty much dictated how commercial music sounded? Even greats like Nas and Jay-Z got the Diddy treatment at some point. To this day I’m thankful that Biggie died before Puff could squeeze him into a shiny suit and force him to rap over a sample from Rod Stewart’s “If You Think I’m Sexy” (I’m looking at you Jadakiss). Where was I going with this? Oh, right. PJ Katz is like P. Diddy. Except instead of sucking, he’s awesome. His hand was in 8 or more of the releases mentioned in this review, and since his 92’ Renault album dropped last year I’ve noticed an increase in vibrant horns, crisp snares, chin stubble and newsboy caps. His instrumental album, Ear Food Vol. 1, is every rapper’s dream. Here are seven reasons why: Run Dat, If The Night Is Dark, Like An Indian, Jimmy Crack, Echo One, Halos Shining, and Burn It Down (which Kwamizzle already ethered). Oh, and it’s free.

Dao Era by Dao Jones: I think of every project mentioned on this list Dao’s is the most distinct. He doesn’t sound stereotypically underground, and that could be good or bad depending on your personal taste. His mainstream influences clearly resonate in his music, and his commercial appeal is equally apparent. So in a world where rap snobs thumb their noses at anything sounding contemporary, why is it that Dao’s album is so cool? Is it his love of denim apparel and sunglasses? Is it his willingness to incorporate melodic undertones into his vocals? Or maybe it’s just because he’s a dope rapper from Saratoga who’s not afraid to take risks when writing songs. While some of his stuff is a little too “made for BET” for me, a lot of the songs on Dao Era are smooth and insightful. “About Love” and “Don’t Wanna Be A” are definitely worth checking out. And take note of the arrangements and attention to detail throughout the album.

Almost Home by Masai: I’m including my own album for two reasons: 1) it was released in the last 4 months, and 2) I counted 25 artists who contributed to it in one way or another (12 rappers, 12 producers, and 1 DJ). Almost all of them are local artists. So there’s that. Also, Lobo said I should.

Finally Here by Chubbz: I’ve only heard a few songs off of this album. They were dope. I actually wanted to hear the rest, but I was too lazy to drive around trying to find a hard copy, and the entire album isn’t yet available online, even for purchase. If you’re a local artist, re-read that last sentence and take away a valuable lesson. Either way, I’ve heard good things about this project and hope Chubbz gets a little more accessible for fans as lazy as me. From what I can tell his strengths lie in his punchlines and effortless delivery, which reminds me of Fat Joe when Big Pun was writing his lyrics. Check out “Warzone” ft Fred Da The Godson (video coming soon), and the videos for “Can’t Wait” and his “5 AM” freestyle featuring Ern.

The Blunt Object by Mista Pigz (Mixed by The Vinylcologist): Mista Pigz is annoyingly underrated. I’m starting to think it’s because the Final Word roster has so many intense personalities that his laid back style tends to get overlooked. Or it’s cuz he’s really short. Either way Pigz is extremely consistent on his latest release, The Blunt Object, as well as all of the feature appearances I’ve heard from him this year (“Hookers and Gin” anyone?). He’s also not afraid to tell stories and discuss his personal life on a record. I’m a huge fan of that. Although there were too many songs diluting the potency of this release, the strongest tracks (“The Truth,” “Nowadays,” “Love Ya Pt. 2,” and “Cold As Hell,” for example) definitely shine through.

Nuffin But Hard Verses by Bandana Boogs: When Darzee Reid aka Bandana Boogs messaged me and asked me to check out his mixtape a few months ago, I remember him being polite and enthusiastic. When I listened to it I honestly wasn’t blown away, but I heard a lot of potential. I bet his follow-up project would have reflected that potential, but unfortunately Darzee Reid was shot and killed on April 18th after performing at a local venue. I later found out that my girlfriend and her friends had gone to school with him, and that he was apparently a respectful individual (and a great basketball player) who’d been actively using music to turn his life around after getting caught up in the struggle. This album is not his legacy; he is survived by his daughter and his family. But I think it’s worth checking out his final testament because that’s what I’d want people to do if I’d left behind some of my recorded thoughts. Since I consider all local MCs colleagues in a sense, I’d hope his senseless death could serve as a reminder that the violent culture of hip-hop does not, and should not, define who we are. And certainly shouldn’t dictate how we live and die. I appreciate the mixtape’s outro, where Boogs states, “I’m gone, lost somewhere between the bass and treble.” I can only hope that’s true. Rest in peace, fam.

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