Generations from now - when Hover Boards finally skate into reality and people start teleporting like those kids in Jumpers - 2012 may be remembered as the point when the Rap industry started to get it right. Not because of the sheer number of stellar projects that were released this year - though there were several. And not because of a sheer lack of craptasticness. There was plenty of that as well. But after kicking in the new millennium with a fractured decade’s worth of one dimensional swash dominating radio and a glutenous number overnight not-quite-ready’s shooting to popularity off a still developing internet - a semblance of talent-based diversity is returning to the atmosphere.
Take the Billboard HipHop/R&B charts, for example. Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank)” (an anti-drinking song) and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis‘ “Thrift Shop” (a song about thrift store shopping) both cracked the Top 10 the past two weeks. When’s the last time any rap not about sex, drugs, or partying in a strip club was sitting near the top of the charts?
Take a look at the number of talented artists developing fan bases and touring the country off of top quality independent projects, or skipping the label system and finding direct sales success. The career options are everywhere.
The majors are pushing a more diverse array of emcees. The indies are winning more often. Sounds and styles are evolving. Rappers are starting to rap good again. In that regard, 2012 was a great year to discover music; to review albums. Complaining about the state of Rap music is always an option. But for the first time in years, it’s pretty easy not to.
Before 2012 is officially history, HipHopDX delivers five more reviews on albums that we missed this year. If you were in the Comments section asking about Chino XL, Curren$y and Harry Fraud, KA, Main Attrakionz, and Nacho Picasso (with Blue Sky Black Death), this one’s especially for you.
Chino XL - RICANstruction: The Black Rosary
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Fatigue sets in easily when listening to Chino XL’s RICANstruction: The Black Rosary. One lap through the New Jersey-natives 35-track behemoth feels like driving from Maine to Miami without a rest stop. That's not to say RICAN doesn’t have plenty of bright spots. “Hell Song” (featuring Tech N9ne and DJ Romes) and “Xross Your Heart” (featuring Bun B) brim with replay value. “Father’s Day’s” emotional ode to his daughter’s triumphant bout with cancer is genuinely soul stirring. Lines like “Stayed on my path, ran my own race / Now I piss on hundred dollar bills to see look on Ben Franklin's face," (“Gone”) are super ill expressions of fact-based braggadocio. Expectedly, RICAN is lyrically compelling and at times contextually courageous. But after two and half hours of largely hookless hooks and tepid bass lines, as the title to track 26 ironically alludes, it’s impossible not to feel “Buried In Vocabulary.”
Curren$y & Harry Fraud - Cigarette Boats
Rating: 4 out of 5
Curren$y is great at making the same songs repeatedly. The Nawlins’-lyricist is officially the go-to emcee for Jazz club-friendly raps about weed, women, and whips. That’s where he lives. Cigarette Boats - Spitta’s five song EP with Harry Fraud - is further evidence that he’s mastering the aesthetic. Three things: Curren$y is wittier than ever and in total control of his flow. Potent metaphors like “Yeah girl I did it / I’d advise you to play your position / Before you see another hoe in your jersey tryna score 30” (“Leaving The Dock”) resonate like a Carter II-era Lil Wayne. Secondly, Harry Fraud delivers a 14-and-a-half minute production clinic on exquisite layering, none better than the Smoke DZA-featured “Mirrors.” First of all, Cigarette Boats is a quality listen. It may be the same songs Curren$y crafts continuously, but they’re certainly good songs.
KA - Grief Pedigree
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
All this talk of gentrification, hipster invasions, and NBA players reshaping the Brooklyn landscape apparently doesn’t include KA’s Brownsville neighborhood. On his sophomore LP, Grief Pedigree, The former Natural Elements-emcee depicts a scabrous environment still as ominous as when M.O.P. first bogarted the scene. “You should like how I came from hopeless,” KA kicks on album opener, “Chamber.” “A ill place / Milk crates / Mangy sofas / All gloom / Small room / No range of motion.” The skeletal “Cold Facts” and “Every...’s” kaleidoscope of blips and erratic strings are immediate standouts, each lyrically lingering long after initial listen. But it’s a challenge to stay alert during drowsy offerings like “Summer,” “Decisions,” “Up Against Goliath,” and “Vessel.” KA succeeds in viscerally implanting the plight of circumstance, no doubt. Life growing up on The Hill (Brownsville’s nickname) sounds realer than ever. But does it have to be so sonically snooze-inducing, though?
Main Attrakionz - Bossalinis & Fooliyones
Rating: 3 out of 5
Main Attrakionz self-aggrandized designation as the “best duo ever” is clearly premature, but at least they nailed the title to their Young One Records-debut. In a nod to Spice 1 and C-Murder, Bossalinis & Fooliyones addresses the dichotomy between boss-status and foolhardiness. “On Tour” - where Squadda B and Mondre M.A.N. croon about “fucking up a lot of money [they] made on tour” - could easily be the anthem for any artist’s first year on the road. The Harry Fraud-produced “24th Hour” is one of few instances of prevailing insight (along with the Shady Blaze-featured “Wings”), haphazardly surrounded by an onslaught of obvious bars and grating hooks. B&F has a ton of magnanimous backdrops - like Zaytoven’s Hulk-like bass line on “Superstitious” (featuring Gucci Mane) - but still falls forty-yards short of any semblance of lyrical imagination. Booming beats and lackluster rhymes is rarely the recipe for a compelling listen.
Nacho Picasso & Blue Sky Black Death - Exalted
Rating: 4 out of 5
Don’t let the monotone Gucci Mane flow dissuade, Nacho Picasso is one clever rapper. Produced entirely by Blue Sky Black Death, Exalted finds the self-described “Yellow-ass hatin nigga” (“Kickin Out Windows”) doling out bombastic quotables like Mike Tyson. “I’m Uncle Jesse, bitch / Not Dave Coulier,” Nacho serves hilariously on “Tom Hanks,” digging deep into his 1990s bag of pop-culture references. Juxtaposing Haile Selassie and Marcus Garvey with John Belushi and Chris Farley is light work for the independent upstart. But nimble displays of alliteration and extended metaphors - like “4th Of July’s” awesome shout to Kurt Cobain, Bruce Lee, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Sir Mix-a-Lot, Quincy Jones, and the rest of Seattle’s iconic linchpins - are what tip this project way past average. Though it drags long towards the end, BSBD’s explosive yet lean-ready production mixed with Nacho Picasso’s exuding personality make Exalted absolutely worth revisiting.
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