13 April 2018

VIDEO: Jay Royale - The Iron ft B.E.N.N.Y. The Butcher

We got another raw Hip Hop joint for y'all. And to no ones surprise, this one comes from Maryland. Jay Royale has been FLOODING the streets lately with street singles and killing every feature he gets his hands on. We got the video for "The Iron" straight from the source. This joint is the first single off of Jay's upcoming project, The Ivory Stoop, dropping late May/early June. Finally getting around to it, so let's go.

The Ray Sosa produced single is a callback to that grimey NY/mid-90s era sound. The ominous drums and piano instrumental evoke those Mobb Deep/CNN/Wu Tang classics tracks (joints like Mobb's "Street Life" come to mind). I thought that cuts from DJ Grazzhoppa were an ILL Conscious staple, but now I see that Jay got this secret ingredient in his repertoire too. Once again DJ Grazzhoppa caps another track off with dope scratches. His cuts contain Nas bars from the single "Triple Threat" (if you ain't peep that, do that soon) and sounds like a bar from M.O.P. or Scarface (not really sure either way, holla if you know though). Jay Royale hits you right off the bat with his authentically vivid street bars. His flow on this style of beat is perfection. Handling the second verse duties is Buffalo vet, B.E.N.N.Y. The Butcher. The lyrical chemistry these two spitters have is front and center. When Jay Royale pairs with ILL Conscious, we know there's a bond there that allows them to create classic tracks. But both MD emcees are HEAVILY influenced by the Golden Era. Specifically from the NY area. So the fact that pairing Jay and Benny gives you a track like this shouldn't be that surprising. The transition from Jay to Benny is a smooth baton transfer. The personal touches each emcee puts in their verses allows the track to be cohesive yet individual. It is sort of a an oxymoron. Both men are clearly products of their respective experiences, but there are also overlapping themes that tie them together. I guess you could just chalk that up to both being "East Coast" emcees.

The decisions made with the music video further compliments the overall final product. The black and white video has a grainy quality to it. The sort of look you get from those those vintage 35 mm films (not a film expert but I think that's right, or some other number variation): rounded edges, ratio dimensions that are closer to a square, and with grainy and solar flare "imperfections". Of course all of this is done intentionally. The visual technique gives the video that old documentary feel. Combining that with lyrics about street life solidify the overall vibe of the track. You get an idea of what Jay Royale is capable of with a polished track like this. If this track speaks to your soul, than stay tuned as we see what else Jay got prepared for the rest of The Ivory Stoop.


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06 April 2018

REVIEW: ILL Conscious - The Prerequisite

If you are new to the blog, you might be asking "what up with this late ass review?". I know The Prerequisite dropped February 19th, but the reason is twofold. One, I ain't cop it til mid March (I was actually reviewing Jericho Jackson and didn't drop that til the 16th). And two (the reason why ALL of our reviews drop "late"), because we like to live with each project. On average I probably listen to each LP, EP, or mixtape at least a dozen times front to back (at home on laptop, in headphones at work and gym, and through car speakers). So now that we are all caught up with how we get down, on to ILL Conscious. The Baltimore native has been active in the game since his first mixtape Bloody Conscious Vol. I in 05. ILL had my curiosity with a few tracks that were sent to me from previous projects, but it was "The Narrative" single off of The Prerequisite that really caught my attention. Off the strength of one single, I was ready for the rest of the album. So how did ILL Conscious do with the remanding 9 tracks? Let's jump into it.

All emcees should know how to curate an album. In our last podcast, the BITM squad talked about the Black Panther soundtrack. Kendrick Lamar is the perfect example of an emcee that knows how to piece an album together: beginning, middle, and end. And of course it all starts with the first track. The intro track is just that, the first shot you have to introduce (or reintroduce) yourself to the public. The Marshtini produced track "Capital Investments" sounds like an early Wu joint (especially the last 15 secs), with cuts from DJ Grazzhoppa. ILL hits you with an array of clever metaphors and a sophisticated flow. While the tropes of a "hood/street" track are present, ILL is able to elevate the subject matter with his approach. I said in my review of "The Narrative" track that ILL has an AZ heir about him, mostly in his cadence and a bit in his flow. But the way ILL attacks this track reminds me of a Raekwon, with his seasoned vet-like vocabulary. You are going to hear word play that you've NEVER heard before. Doing that in a track like this shows not just true talent, but knowledge of self and the culture. ILL Conscious knocked this one out the park. Enough said. Next.

I try to stay away from reviewing featured artists. If you clicked on an artist's name, I assume you are here for said artist's review. But ILL gave me no choice. More on that later. The second track "Foreign Relations" is produced by Hi Cee and features DJ Dacel (on the cuts?) and Papitas Freestyle. The jazz infused track sets the stage for ILL to hit you with conscious and braggadocio bars that solidify his place among the bonafide spitters. Next up is Papitas Freestyle. I've NEVER heard of this dude before. The Chilean emcee contributes the hook and the second verse. ALL. IN. SPANISH (and this is why I had to talk about this featured artist). Papitas Freestyle has a Joey Bada$$ flow to him that compliments the track well. Both emcees have verses that are DOPE, but I got to give ILL a tip of the hat. It's a BOLD move to have your hook and half of your track in another language. The first thing an ILL Conscious fan (the dude that put me on) said to me was, "I have NO idea what this guy was saying". As someone who understood what Papitas Freestyle was saying, I gotta say this is one of the best Spanish verses I've ever heard. And just verse-wise, both these emcees created one of the best tracks on this album.

Speaking of Joey Bada$$, I had to get into this track. "Vibe Vibrations" is produced by Wisdom Beats and samples "Summer Nights" by Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes. Joey sampled this song for his intro track to 1999, "Summer Knights". This is another jazz/blues instrumental that fits so well with the overall sound of the album. Yung Miss provides smooth vocals that accompany the mellow track. ILL Conscious is able find these pockets where he hits these melodic patterns that make your face ugly. This is going to be one of those tracks that you bump in the whip on a perfect spring day. Windows down. Bangin'. Well, that is if we ever get actual normal seasons anymore in the DMV.

I'm not going to get into "The Narrative" joint again. But trust, that is a stand out track. Peep review for it here, and the video below. When I link up with the BITM squad we always discuss the current state of Hip Hop. From the outside looking in, it appears that rappers today need a gimmick. You need them likes, or you need to be trending. You need to Kool-Aid your hair and teeth, tattoo dumb shit on your face, and mumble your way through a strip club beat that your IG followers can turn into memes. It's almost rare to expect a rapper born in the 90s or oughts to not be a product of this hyper social media world. But there is one segment of the Hip Hip community that still gives me hope. Whether you call them underground, independent, or local artists, it is this group that might help repopulate the emcee pool. Before Cole or Kendrick dominated the mainstream landscape, they were independent. They didn't have to go through the marketing team of these conglomerate machines to decide what their image should be. Or what they should say and how they should say it. Hip Hop weeds out the pseudo gangstas and fraudulent personas. ILL Conscious is who he says he is. How do we know this? Listen to the music. He is a clear product of the Golden Era. Specifically that mid 90s New York sound. You don't get compared to AZ, Raekwon, Pun, or L unless you show and prove (the Chef and Big L comparisons are mine, but I've seen others make the AZ and Pun one). The Golden Era had many defining traits, but one that gets overlooked was its intellectualism. These emcees were SMART. They were philosophers. Many were self taught. You can't fake that. To carry on that tradition you have to come correct all the time, or don't come at all. If you hear ILL Conscious, he sounds like he was bred in that environment. But if you listen to him, you see that connection is much deeper. Many people can mimic a cadence, but many can't structure and string words together to create that authentic track. And we ain't even talk about the instrumentals. ILL Conscious hand picked the perfect beats to create a cohesive body of work. The features also compliment his style well and add to the atmosphere created by great production. By this point in the review I try to see where this artists/project fits in the current climate. I can see ILL Conscious going the way of a Joey Bada$$. There might be a "hit" or two, but most of the music will be for the culture. True Hip Hop heads will support all his movements and ILL will continue to produce authentic timeless music. If ILL continues to pay homage to the great emcees before him, we might be looking at a gang of tracks where he actually teams up with said greats. I'll let y'all daydream what would be your perfect pairing. But til then, go COP The Prerequisite and support the emcee ILL Conscious.


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16 March 2018

REVIEW: Elzhi & Khrysis - Elzhi & Khrysis Are Jericho Jackson

Hip Hop has four main pillars: rapping, DJing, breakdancing, and graffiti art (I know there are synonyms for each pillar, but I'm going with the Zulu Nation's wording). The mainstream influence that Hip Hop has can primarily be attributed to the music pillars: the emcee and the DJ. Yes, all four pillars form like Voltron to give us the true essence of Hip Hip culture, but the global entertainment reach Hip Hop has is because of the music.

I've said on multiple occasions that there is a certain magic that a project has when it comes from one emcee and one DJ/producer. The late 80s/early 90s gave us classic duos like: Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Eric B and Rakim, Gang Starr (Guru and DJ Premier), DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, and more (didn't feel like researching, we know there are more). The late 90s and oughts had a few gems as well: Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek), Madvillain (MF DOOM and Madlib), Murs and 9th Wonder, Blu and Exile, and Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El P) (again, we know there are more duos). I'll make one more point before this review completely gets away from me (too late?). A few years ago Royce Da 5'9" and DJ Premier formed their emcee/DJ group, PRhyme. They are actually dropping their second project today (hope to hop on that joint next). Even though it really doesn't matter, I feel there is more..commitment(?) when you name your group. So when Elzhi and Khrysis revealed that they were forming the group, Jericho Jackson, my curiosity was peaked. Actually, my expectations were SKY HIGH. My expectations were not only based on their individual pedigrees, but also the climate of recent pairings (ie, PRhyme). So how did Jericho Jackson fare? Let's go.

The intro track "World of Illusion" features a minimal piano melody with words from British philosopher Alan Watts. The speech he gives is a metaphor for information processing. You can lose yourself in your own thoughts. People who are overwhelmed with thoughts, are not able to live in reality. Instead, they live in a..world of illusion (well played Elzhi/Khrysis). The following track "Overthinking" takes the baton from the philosopher and into Elzhi's current state of mind. This track appears to be a therapy session (actually, a few tracks feel this way). Elzhi has had a few personal and professional trials the last couple of years. This track allows him to heal while contemplating over lessons learned. Elzhi works through his emotions in a sort of "book of rhymes" style. He deals with: politics, record contracts, family, fame, acceptance, social media, fake friends, street life, self awareness, hope, doubt, religion, love, revenge, and regret. Technically, the Detroit spitter is in top shape. His flows, delivery, cadence, subject matter and metaphors are all flawless. The track ends with Alan Watts predicting our current environment (I think this speech, and his intro speech, must be from the 50s or 60s). He states:

And all so called civilized peoples. Have increasingly become crazy and self-destructive. We confuse science, words, numbers, symbols, and ideas with the real world. Most of us would have rather money than tangible wealth. And a great occasion is somehow spoiled for us unless photographed. And to read about it the next day in the newspaper Is oddly, more fun for us than the original event.

The aptly named final track, "Thank you", is a beautiful and complex approach to a subject that has been touched on by many artists. Elzhi's vocals and Khrysis' SOULFUL beat are enough to make this track a stand out. But the way Elzhi navigates his way through ups and downs is masterful. The balance of how his life went vs how it easily could have gone creates an intriguing duality. His destination is important, but the journey is what made him the man he is today. Elzhi acknowledges that without his family, friends, and fans none of this would be possible. Again, not a world changing discovery. But this track Elzhi and Khrysis create is a perfect bookend to an entire album that is full of depth and emotion.

Since New Year's Eve, we've been teased with the Jericho Jackson project. Last month we got the first single "Self Made" (which is DOPE, definitely a track that has a bit more "grime" than the rest of the album) and the follow up track "Listen". Khrysis curated the entire album with a neo soul infused canvas for Elzhi to work with. The 9th Wonder disciple has clearly elevated his beat game to another level. No club bangers. Not a problem (for me). But if you need one, then go listen to Lil...Rainbow Head? The Soul Council alum is a perfect evolution of the 9th/ATCQ/Raphael Saadiq-type sounding beats. Can't wait to see what he has cooked up for the sequel. Oh, and dude got to flex his pen game in "Talkin' Bout". But of course when it comes to lyrics, we all came for Elzhi. Since his solo debut in 08, many Hip Hops were waiting for him to take his place with the top emcees. Elmatic in 2011 (damn, I swear that JUST came out) added fuel to the debate. But a DELAYED album Kickstarter (with lawsuit threats from fans that pledged money) revealed that the emcee had been dealing with depression. From that darkness Elzhi was able to give us an extremely introspective album, Lead Poison, in 2016. Really until we heard a few months ago about the Jericho Jackson project, we had no idea when we'd see him again. As I stated above (somewhere up there), my expectations where high for this one. I'm a fan of all things Jamla, and Khrysis has been on a steady incline for his whole career. And I've been a fan of Elzhi since his Slum Village days. I can gladly say that these two artists did not disappoint. This album is EXACTLY what you expect and want from this duo. We've said it before, there are some DOPE ASS LYRICISTS out there. You just gotta dig for them. This album isn't going to push 21 Savage numbers (I saw his name pop up recently, that is the extent of my knowledge of dude), it ain't gonna be poppin in the clubs, and it probably won't hit the airwaves (maybe on an XM channel somewhere). But if you want those straight up BARS and BEATS, you need look no further. I hope this is the project Elzhi needed to get better, get healthy, and get back to taking his place in the upper echelon of emcees. Peep video for Jericho Jackson's first single below. 

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REVIEW: Nipsey Hussle - Victory Lap

Replay value, something that is no longer a leading trait or stat in the music industry especially when it comes to hip-hop. What is probably the leading factor that goes into calling an album a classic project is now something that isn’t too prevalent in our culture. Reflecting back over the last calendar year of the music we’ve received from heavy hitters like Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar, Rick Ross, CyHi The Prynce, and Rapsody; they have shown us that their integrity still remains in their artistry to deliver to fans  a cohesive project that is not only sonically enjoyable but will leave you lyrically pleased. Adding to that list of artists is West Coast King Nipsey Hussle. Nipsey after formulating a brilliant album roll-out and press run has released his long-awaited album completing the mixtape series, Victory Lap. Seeming to resemble Dr. Dre’s Detox, based off of the arrival time of Victory Lap fans like myself were more than ecstatic to hear when Nip dropped an actual release date for this project. After all of the build up and hype we finally have the complete debut project, and weeks after its release it has the accolades to support how good this album really is.

With what seems to be a flawless into track featuring Stacy Barthe the song “Victory Lap,”  Nipsey is braggadocios from his time that he remained honorable in the streets to his legitimate success in business ventures that he’s currently acquiring more of. Segueing into the first single from the album “Rap Niggas” is a fucking west coast classic banger already. The energy that Nipsey brings forth is guaranteed to get you to spill some liquor on your shoes or get you in the middle of a mosh pit, so be safe with this one. To lead into yet another song that’s guaranteed for summer pool parties is “Last Time That I Checc’d” featuring YG. Now if you have any history about any track with a Nipsey and YG, you know that they are shooting 100% from the line with no miss in sight. From their last big hit “Fuck Donald Trump,” this is a great follow up to have you feeling yourself as if you run your city when you really don’t. 

With 11 features on 16 tracks and only about 4-5 with actual verses from artists on the others, “Dedication” is lyrical sparring with none other than Kendrick Lamar as Nip’s sparring partner. This has been the theme with Nipsey for as long as I can remember that I’ve been listening to him. Discipline is something that he prides his self on having not only among his self but his team, which is how he’s come to enjoy his sacrifices now that the blueprint has come into fruition. Kendrick blesses the track telling not only part of his story that we are already familiar with but why he respects Nipsey being that they come from different gangs (Nipsey being a Crip and Kendrick a blood), yet Nipsey speaks and ACTS on building black businesses, self education, and owning our community. “Blue Laces 2” is my favorite track on the album and it’s upsetting because as amazing as this album is, I could not bring myself to hit the next button. Keeping almost the same beat from the original with some minor tweaks, this track is impeccable. This track strikes me in a realm of pain and understanding, with even a small reference to Marvel’s record breaking Black Panther movie. “ In a Spook by the door this the infiltration,” refers to a book about a CIA agent who was a token black in the agency and drops out to train Chicago blacks as “freedom fighters” to become militant black citizens; sound similar to the plot of the highest grossing solo superhero movie of all time? If you think so that’s because that story is similar to Michael B. Jordan’s “Eric Kilmonger” in the film. Blue Laces 2 is something that will definitely have you wanting to sit your seat back and cruise to in the car or roll up to. 

We have received classic Nipsey Hussle mixtapes before, most notably being his Marathon series or the 2013 classic Crenshaw, but even he has said recently he has never put this much focus and emphasis methodically into not only a project but the other aesthetics and nuances that go into creating an album. From the way the track list was built to the instrumentals sampled to the different flows he used, Nipsey is clearly stepping further into his own artistry. You would think the way the beats were chosen that this is a Rick Ross album (Ross has a great ear for beats), however that is the help of Mike & Keys, 1500 or Nothin, Diddy and more. Mike & Keys and 1500 or Nothin are of my favorite producers that work with Nipsey and their chemistry produces nothing but classics. 

I am a huge fan of Nipsey so with my bias, this album is a classic and I don’t care who debates it. I can’t be by myself based off of the reception of this album and its been out for a month. The support that Nip has received from rappers, fans, bloggers, athletes has all but certified this project as something truly cohesive that can be placed with the greater projects we’ve received from other artists recently that will surely stand the test of time. As not just another rapper but a real student of the game and intellectual, I understand the moves that were made and the patience needed for Nipsey to release his debut album. As someone who prides his self on ownership of his music and publishing, to work out a partnership deal with Atlantic Records after being noted for his Independent success, as the last step before his release shows me that he is calculated and is looking to stay here for the long haul (hence the term Marathon he so frequently uses). Go get Victory Lap today!

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01 March 2018

REVIEW: Black Panther: The Album

Ever since the TDE collective Black Hippy started to gain notariety after Kendrick Lamar burst onto the scene in 2012, fans have been clamoring for a project featuring all four members of the label.  As years have passed and Top Dawg Entertainment grew into a juggernaut in the industry, they also acquired new members and made several alliances along the way, so an album with just Kenny, Soul, Q, and Jay Rock began making less and less sense.

Luckily, an opportunity arose when director Ryan Coogler approached Kendrick about an idea to be at the helm of the soundtrack for the movie Black Panther.  In an interview, Coogler stated that "Kendrick's artistic themes align with those we explore in the film."  So following the DAMN. tour, Kung Fu Kenny and his in-house production team began laying down the groundwork for what could possibly go down as one of the best movie soundtracks ever created in the form of Black Panther: The Album.  In addition to providing the backdrop for the film itself, the soundtrack inadvertently satiates the hunger from fans that have been longing for TDE to form like Voltron and shock the world with their immense talent and perspective.  This may not be a Black Hippy project per se, but this is definitely an amazing consolation.

Let me start off by saying THIS SOUNDTRACK IS FUCKING PHENOMENAL!  Black Panther: The Album can be enjoyed whether or not you've actually seen the film, but understanding the references heard throughout will hit you much harder if you are familiar with the source material.  The reason is because this album is a perfect illustration of every major event in the movie and its overall significance.  In some ways, Kendrick creatively re-tells the stories of both T'Challa and Killmonger, as well as the societies each character comes from.  Kendrick's verse on "All The Stars" is from the perspective of T'Challa when Killmonger came storming into the throne room making demands, while Khalid & Swae Lee sing an ode to the powerful women of Wakanda on "The Ways."  The West Coast-infused "Paramedic" almost serves as Killmonger's theme song, while "Bloody Waters" and "King's Dead" are essentially the height of the conflict between both main characters, as Killmonger defeats T'Challa and assumes the throne.

Even though Kendrick isn't featured on every track, his influence is heard thematically throughout.  This album features notable contributions from artists representing every facet of urban culture, and most of it works extremely well, with only a few head scratchers.  Swae Lee and Future may be in a similar lane in this industry, but the gap in their creativity and ability to blend into a song are staggering.  Swae Lee fits perfectly alongside Khalid on "The Ways," despite Khalid's reputation as being more of a true 'artist.'  Meanwhile, Future's embarrassing attempt to flex his creative muscle on "King's Dead" is so bad that it ruins a moment that could have been special for Jay Rock, who managed to pull a whole new style out of his arsenal on this song.

"Redemption's" rhythmically African sound may come across as jarring when compared to all the other vibes that precede it, but it quickly becomes an infectious change of pace that is both unexpected and welcome.  Kendrick has a way of piecing together a project to where you won't ever feel fatigued by a single style becoming redundant.  One of the album's strongest tracks is "Seasons."  Equal parts hood and motherland, this song exemplifies the internal struggles Killmonger faced being stripped from his roots in Wakanda and forced to grow up in a poverty-stricken environment in Oakland, California.

In true Kendrick Lamar fashion, Black Panther: The Album concludes on a high note with The Weeknd on the futuristic "Pray For Me."  Like most of the album, it's just great hearing songs that both fit the movie, and are simply enjoyable to listen to from a musical standpoint.  This epic conclusion caps off a 14-track thrill ride that solidifies just how dominant TDE truly is.  These guys are checking off a lot of boxes this decade, and building a truly legendary resume to boot.  With so many artists from within TDE and outside the camp, this soundtrack often feels like Top Dawg Entertainment's compilation album, similar to The Dynasty.  What a time to be alive!  Kendrick is becoming a renaissance man of sorts, by curating one of the greatest soundtracks of all time up there with the likes of Above the Rim, Juice, Superfly and Purple Rain.  Top Dawg may have been the coach, Kendrick may have been the quarterback, but the entire squad gets the W for this soundtrack.

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23 February 2018

REVIEW: Skyzoo - In Celebration of Us

3 weeks ago today I woke up to my pre-order of Skyzoo's fourth (unless The Easy Truth counts, then it's his fifth) studio album, In Celebration of Us. My pre-order criteria is..let's say extensive. But Skyzoo DEF makes that cut. I put Sky in an elite group of "new" emcees (he's been around since the early oughts) that I feel hit a sweet spot (pause?). His beat selection: DOPE. Lyrics: top shelf. But those are both Hip Hop abilities that are a bit "easier" to have in your skill set. What Skyzoo adds to his repertoire is his superb subject matter and the ability to successfully create thematic projects. If your bars are insane, but you ain't saying shit, then you won't be around for long. At least I hope that's still the rule. Skyzoo remains relevant because he consistently pays attention to his subject matter. And to take it a step further, Sky is able to parlay those concepts into entire albums. To come up with an idea in your head and have it translate well to the masses is extremely difficult. When an album flows in a linear structure (with a beginning, middle, and end), it just gives the listener a totally different experience. I won't say better or worst, but it is something I can appreciate. In Celebration of Us is thematic, but I don't want you to think it plays as: chapter 1, chapter 2, etc. There is a theme that plays throughout, and you really notice this when you play the first and last track. 

The first track, "Everybody's Fine", starts off with a skit. ONLY negative critique: Sky should have let the skit be it's own track. It's a dope skit. Actually, it's very important to the album as a whole. But when you are reviewing the album (I also listen to albums on repeat even if I ain't reviewing them) and have to hear it 50+ times, you wish you could get right to the song. Like Netflix, I want to skip the intro credits. That's it. Back to the review. The skit is a conversation between two men in early 1982. You find out that one man is Greg, Skyzoo's father. Skyzoo's real name is Greg Skyler Taylor. Papa Greg is telling his friend (Tray Duce?) that he wants to leave the street game. Greg gets nothing but love and support from his friend. The friend tells Greg that he'll will be there for whatever he needs. After the skit we get into the actual track. Skyzoo hits us with one of his most beautifully complex verses I've ever heard. His signature cool flow rides the predominantly drum heavy instrumental. Where Skyzoo elevates his lyrical style is with the repetition of his rhyming patterns. Sky paints juxtaposing images that compliment each other like: 

Or you in a hall, up on the wall/ 
With department of corrections letters hovered up over where your name is/ 
Or you by the door, cap and gown to the floor/ 
8 years of proof hovered up over where your name sits 

Of course we still get all those internal rhymes and double entendres that are common from a Skyzoo project. But the effortless way he connects contrasting imagery is amazing. In two bars with similar poetic structures, we see two different people: one is a person getting their mugshot before they are incarcerated, and the other is a graduate (I assume with a masters since its 8 years) looking at their diploma in their home. The single verse actually plays twice. After a few DJ scratches, the beat looses the drums and Skyzoo speaks and comments that we are always told that "everybody's fine". The same verse plays again on the stripped down drum-less instrumental. I'm dissecting this part, but it might take me a while to truly appreciate the single track in its entirety. If you're a Hip Hop nerd like me, you'll loose track of time breaking this joint down. 

The final track, "Honor Amongst Thieves", follows a more typical Hip Hop song structure. Instead of single verse/no hook/repeat same verse (like "Everybody's Fine), we get the verse/hook/verse layout. The song ends with a skit (more like a recording of Skyzoo telling a story about his family at a listening party, I assume). By the way, this is another completely acceptable option. Instead of having a skit on its own track, it can start at the end of the song. The first part of the song repeats the question "do you believe" and provides different scenarios. The second verse is an autobiography that focuses on Skyzoo and his father. The speech that Sky gives after the song basically mirrors the story he tells. His youth was a Boyz n the Hood parallel, where he lived with his mother until he reached adolescence. After that he moved in with his father to learn "how to be a man". This song brings the album full circle. The first thing you hear at the start of the album is a skit reenacting the moment Skyzoo's father decided to leave the street once he found out he was having a son. The album ends with Sky speaking in present day, telling a story about being raised by his mother and father. Even though they were different households, his parents made sure to give young Sky the upbringing that was rare in his environment. 

#Blackexcellence. This hashtag has been at its peak this month. It is not by accident that Skyzoo decided to drop In Celebration of Us during Black History month. About the album, Skyzoo comments, "Conceptually, this is Ta-nehisi Coates meets Chappelle’s Show, The Autobiography of Malcolm X meets Black-ish, the case of Sandra Bland meets the birth of Air Jordans". As I mentioned above, Skyzoo keeps his subject matter relevant. He talks about police brutality, the street game, appropriation, love, family, relationships, gentrification, politics, black on black violence, death and religion. This featureless project (from an emcee standpoint) is probably one of his most complex works in his ever expanding catalog. Skyzoo once again comes correct. His lyrical ability is one that garners a certain amount of expectation. We EXPECT top notch production and bars. The Brooklyn emcee is product of NY Hip Hop but evolved into the next iteration of what you think of when you think "NY emcee". Lyrics are at the forefront. And the instrumentals harken back to the Golden Era NY sound. At this point it is hard to image Skyzoo missing any of his shots. In my humble opinion, In Celebration of Us needs to be in the mix when talking about #blackexcellence. 

Peep the whole album below. 

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13 February 2018

VIDEO: PRhyme - Era ft. Dave East

About a week ago we got the visuals to the first single from PRhyme 2, "Era". It's been a little over 3 years since we heard from the dynamic duo. But if you've been following Royce or Preem, you've been fiending for this project since the sequel was first teased about 2 years ago. The duo tapped Harlem emcee Dave East to split the lyrical duties with Nickel. Dave East is on a SERIOUS upswing in his career. East is riding the high of his own sequel project P2 (Paranoia 2) that dropped about a month ago. East switches up his flow to ride the stripped down Preemo beat, but remains true with his signature raw style.

But then Royce Da FUCKING 5'9" drops his BARS. Coming second to Nickel (especially in his own joint) is nothing to be ashamed about. East goes HARD. But Nickel goes INSANE. The way he effortlessly switches up his flow is classic Royce. And his metaphors are out of this world. Again, classic Royce. I love when two lyrical emcees team up to push each other to elevate their game. I have no doubt that Royce went as hard as he did because he knew the young East was gonna bring that fuego. As I mentioned, Dave East is aware that he needs to strike when the iron is hot. And that iron don't get hotter than a Preemo beat on a PRhyme track.

The video is more artistic than you would expect. A large dark room is filled with 4 (5?) rows of people from all walks of life. You get lines of people that are old/young, different races and from various occupations. Within this very organized scene you see Dave East, Royce and DJ Premier. In addition to this stage you two very juxtaposed scenes: you get flashes of a police officer (looks like SWAT, or something tactical) beating a black male and another scene of a black male beating up a person wearing the KKK garb. If the strength of this single (and the thoughtful nature of the video) is a glimpse as to what Preemo and Nickel are cooking up, we got another top shelf project next month.

Peep "Era" video below.

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07 February 2018

BITM Podcast Ep. 4 - 2017 Wrap - Up

The BITM crew is back with our first podcast episode of 2018!  On this episode, we finish discussing the last few albums of 2016, and jump into a few notable 2017 albums as well.  TwonJonson and The Niftian trade opinionated blows as stayfly remains neutral and plays his role as the voice of reason.  Just to name a few artists we touch on in this episode, we discuss Ab-Soul, Logic, ATCQ, De La Soul, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar.

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06 February 2018

VIDEO: ILL Conscious - The Narrative ft Jay Royale

One of my boys sent me this single a few weeks ago. Had it on deck for a review, but I slept on it. Not really slept, more like knocking out a rack of album reviews and getting ready for our latest podcast. But I was hit with the follow up video to "The Narrative" single a few days ago. I've been aware of the existence of ILL Conscious for a few, but for one reason or another he fell under my radar. Which is crazy because the few tracks I've heard from him have been dope. With the blog, IG (I'm the lead for the squad) and the podcast, I'm even more immersed in the culture than ever. Sometimes there just ain't enough hours in the day to catch everything.

ILL Conscious is a Baltimore emcee who ain't even 30 yet (well 29, so comment still true). In the few tracks I've heard before "The Narrative", I would compare his rhyme scheme to a young AZ. But after hearing his latest joint, I can definitely see a touch of Big L in his flow. Everyone calm down. I ain't saying this dude is the second coming of a AZ/Big L hybrid. But if you know me, you know I always differentiate between the rappers from the emcees (I'm not gonna break that all the way down now, maybe for a future podcast). Emcees are students of the culture and have superior lyrical abilities (among other things). And for me, ILL checks all them boxes. Now onto the track.

The single benefits from a Golden Era influenced instrumental created by Venice Beach producer Eyedee. Real talk, this joint sounds like it jumped straight out of Doe or Die. The intro alone sets the mood with some soulful vocals (I STILL can't find out what sample it's from). Once the beats drops, ILL rides the track with an insanely smooth flow. If you need DEM BARS in your life, this joint will provide you with that lyrical sustenance. I can bring up more emcee references to compare ILL's style, but I won't. Just know this young dude is a prefect blend of past and present lyricists (in terms of influences, of course this dude is his own man). Enter Jay Royale, another Bmore spitter cut from the same cloth. The complimentary pairing of these emcees seems effortless. It kind of makes you wish for a Jada/Styles back and forth. The pair give you a glimpse into that Bmore life with grimey bars and metaphors. The track ends with DJ TMB chopping up a few vocals from Mobb Deep, Jay Z, and KRS ONE (I might have missed one or two others), providing a perfect bookend to the track.

The video for "The Narrative" fits naturally with the grimey bars and instrumental. The duo jump from a corner store, a residential and the metro. Besides the j.o.b. in Maryland, I ain't that acquainted with that many Bmore areas. Except for the metro of course. That's a DMV staple. But I'm sure there are a few landmarks that native Baltimoreans(?) will recognize. There is a "low fi" quality to the video that adds to the authenticity of the overall product. So whether you bumping the track in the whip or you watching the video at work, you will not be disappointed.

Final thought: this joint is a street BANGER. "The Narrative" is the debut single off of ILL Conscious' upcoming 2nd album, The Prerequisite. Keep your ears to the streets for that to drop (think I saw somewhere it was February 19th). And run through his first LP, The Essence, and his mixtape catalog. Bmore stand up.


Want your single, video or album featured/reviewed with BITM? Get at us:
https://www.instagram.com/bestinthemix/ (this might be best option)

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09 January 2018

REVIEW: Statik Selektah - 8

On December 8th, we got Statik Selektah's 8th studio album, 8. Obviously continuing with the number wordplay he started with his previous album, Lucky Number 7. Now that the holiday rush is finally dying down and I got over my review fatigue (I am not a machine), I am able to get back to form to start the year off right. Mr. Selektah has been climbing up my "top DJ/producer" list the past decade or so. His latest offering is another eclectic mix of rappers and emcees paired with his ever evolving sound. But let's just jump into it. Stop wasting time in 2018.

The soulful boom bap track "But You Don't Hear Me Tho" is an instant classic. Statik taps fellow ROC NATION label mates the muthafuckin' Lox to take on the lyrical duties. Statik said, “This is classic hip hop music, for lovers of hip hop music. No gimmicks.” The legendary trio ride the smooth instrumental like the vets they are. Each emcee (Sheek Louch, Styles P and Jadakiss) gives us nostalgic bars and take trips down their respective memory lanes. Not only do they reminisce about their personal upbringing, but they also recall what Hip Hop meant to them in it's early stages. Statik flexes his cutting skills and drops scratches throughout the track. You can't get a more polished joint than this one.

Another hit (hit for me, not radio hit) is the track "Nobody Move" with Raekwon and Royce Da 5'9". The grimey track is LACED with crazy hard (pause) bars and metaphors from these two lyrical titans. Raekwon hits us with raw Purple Tape type lyrics that prove that this living legend has a hold of the fountain of youth. Royce makes Detroit proud with his top shelf metaphors and wordplay. Both emcees gives us different points of view but find common ground with a hunger that was essential in the Golden Era of Hip Hop.

Statik has been averaging about 18 tracks per solo albums (8 has 18). Plus his 17 collab albums, a pair of EPs, and that's not even getting into his mixtape arsenal and production credits. All that to say this: the man has been HUSTLIN' and has made a name for himself in the Hip Hop history book. That name allows him to comprise the CRAZY features found on 8: 2 Chainz, Wiz Khalifa, Run The Jewels, Action Bronson, Wale, G-Easy, Joey Bada$$, The Lox, Termanology, Conway, Westside Gunn, Crimeapple, Millyz, Nick Grant, Avenue, Chris Rivers, Joyner Lucas, Tek, Wais P, Sean Price, Cousin Stizz, Curren$y, PNB Rock, Lil Fame, Royce Da 5'9", Raekwon, B-Real, Everlast, No Malice, Prodigy, Juelz Santana, and Plays. As always you have to respect the fact that he can get this gumbo to talent. And the emcee pairings on single tracks is another skill altogether. Tracks that pair Raekwon and Royce, or G-Easy and Joey Bada$$, or Tek, Wais P and Sean Price are a true Hip Hop heads wet dream (pause #2 of 2018). But in comparison to his previous projects (Lucky Number 7, What Goes Around, and my personal favorite Extended Play) this one feels a hair disjointed. It's a catch 22. With such an array of options, this album is sure to please the masses. But it might not hold an individuals interest throughout. By no means is this album a flop. If you love Hip Hop, you'll enjoy this album. Point blank. If you can't find a track you love, rethink your Hip Hop head status. You know this is special project if he was able to get some Prodigy verses on an Alchemist assisted track. Besides Alchemist (or Havoc), you ain't gonna see P verses out there like that. Either way you cut it, Statik sent Hip Hop out the right way in 2017.

Peep videos and album below.

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