27 October 2017

REVIEW: Rapsody - Laila's Wisdom

The squadron at BITM try not to post our reviews quickly for the sake of trending with the initial flurry of online reviews. Instead, we prefer taking LPs, EPs, and mixtapes for real day in life spins: in the whip (of course), through speakers at home, and through headphones at work and at the gym. So with about a month under my belt with Rapsody's latest and greatest, I've had time to reflect on the body of work and the overall impact it has on the current Hip Hop landscape. Rapsody's grandmother, Laila, served as the inspiration for the album which is aptly titled Laila's Wisdom. This is Rap's second LP, but first under the Roc Nation imprint. While we've been champions of the Snow Hill emcee since the jump, we are very pleased to see her stock take an exponential rise in the last couple of years. Hard work pays off, and this album that was 2 years in the making is proof of that. So without further ado, let's jump into a few tracks. 

The intro/titular track, "Laila's Wisdom", sets the tone for the rest of the album. The Nottz produced single (VA stand up!) starts with a sample of Aretha Franklin's "Young, Gifted and Black" and continues with gospel vocals over a heavy piano instrumental. [The Queen of Soul tangent: The song "Young, Gifted and Black" also served as Aretha's 1972 album title. Aretha's titular track is a strong gospel inspired song reminding young black children that no matter how hard or unfair life seems, they are "young, gifted and black". Now back to your regularly scheduled review, already in progress.]  Rapsody's intro channels her grandmother's advice and...wisdom (see what she did there?), and ends with Rap asserting her dominance in the rap game. When I tell you she RIPS the track, maaaaaaan. Lyrically this joint is a gift to geeks like me who hop on genius.com and break down the track bar for bar. Here's a quick sample: "They say we 3/5ths human, well the rest of me’s an Autobot". OK, so here Rap is referring to the 1787 Three-Fifths Compromise. It stated that black slaves would count as "3/5ths" of a [white] person for representative and taxation purposes. In one bar Rapsody acknowledges part of the disgusting (and often conveniently ignored) history of America, while at the same time turning a phrase into something empowering. She is saying, "OK, you view me as 3/5th of a person. Well, the other 2/5ths of me is an more than human". Rapsody is as powerful as an Autobot, a Transformer, a machine advanced in every way, especially lyrically. This immediately reminded me of Kendrick Lamar's line from "The Blacker the Berry". In a line he said, "You're fuckin' evil I want you to recognize that I'm a proud monkey". The racial slur "monkey" is another way to discriminate against black men and women by saying that they are ape-like or primitive. Kendrick, like Rapsody, takes the power away from words meant to put black people down. Turning them into words of empowerment. 

The final track, "Jesus Coming", produced by 9th Wonder is a masterpiece. 9th provides a perfectly simple instrumental with a soulful loop of Otis G Johnson's vocals from the song "Time To Go Home". The track starts off with gunshots and ambulance noises, then Rap goes into three specific stories. The first is of a young man who is shot at a party, the second is of a mother and child who are shot by stray bullets, and the third of a soldier oversees who is killed in action. Rap said, "With this song I just chose three topics that I really wanted to focus on", and "But just talking about us, I really wanted to paint the picture of this is what you doing and I want you to feel this". And keeping with the theme of similarities with other great emcees, this song took me back to Scarface's "I Seen a Man Die". Both focus more on emotional descriptions vs painting the environmental picture. The details of the location are not important, instead Rapsody focuses on the internal dialogue that her characters experience with their last breaths. Her pen bleeds with emotion in every bar. Just another track that I couldn't do justice by trying to explain it. You just gotta hear it. 

The single "Power" with Kendrick Lamar is everything you want from the third meeting of these lyrically juggernauts. "Nobody" with Anderson .Paak and Black Thought is full of gems over a smooth 9th Wonder and Khrysis beat. Music Souldchild makes a surprise duet feature with Gwen Bunn on the soulful track "A Rollercoaster Jam Called Love". But right now, the joint "Black & Ugly" with BJ The Chicago Kid is my favorite track. Without going in too deep, the track is a vulnerable journey through Rapsody's personal experience being an artist that doesn't fit the "normal beauty standards" of the industry. Especially in the Hip Hop culture. This track is an anthem to girls who are beautiful, but are told the opposite by society. 

I've read comments that, with this album, Rapsody is taking her place as the female Kendrick Lamar. I agree and disagree. I agree that Rap is now on the top tier of the "new" wave of emcees (if she wasn't before, and to me she was). So that means she is on that top shelf with the Kendrick Lamars. But comparisons are tricky. They can be negative and positive. In Rap's case, for now I think there are more positives to this comparison. It was her feature on Kendrick's "To Pimp a Butterfly" that help grow her fan base to a more mainstream one. IF I am going to compare Rapsody and this project to another emcee, it would have to be to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Now hear me out. Of course Lauryn is able to add another level to her music with her duel threat of emceeing and singing. But there was one singular feeling I got while listening to Laila's Wisdom and Lauryn's album. And it has to do with a specific image I have in my head. I don't know if I'll have kids in the future, but I always had this vision of listening to Illmatic on a record player with a son. Making sure he's raised right in the context of Hip Hop. Having a daughter terrifies me (ha, that came out harsher than I meant it to be). But after listening to Rapsody's album, I could see that same vision flipped with a daughter spinning that Laila's Wisdom vinyl. The last time I had that "if I had a daughter, I would listen to this joint with her" feeling was with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I am not a woman, but I am also not blind. Being a woman, especially a woman of color, brings about innumerable hurdles and dangers. Pop culture is full of images that tell women how to look, dress and act. Whether it's a music video or the lyrics themselves, there is very little I would want my fictional daughter to emulate. Since Lauryn Hill, I haven't seen another emcee that could tell young girls, "Don't be a hard rock when you really are a gem". And of course this is not an absolute statement. I know there are emcees out there that keep that message/spirit alive. But when it comes to female emcees on a major (in one way or another) and that are (or about to be) "mainstream", the pickings are slim. 

I've been going back and forth with what my final review would be. It's been pointed out that I might maybe possibly be a tad bit biased when it comes to Rapsody. Seeing how I've only given her perfect reviews (Crown and Beauty and The Beast) and how the MOST animated I've ever been during our podcasts was when I was arguing that Rapsody isn't boring (peep the greatness at 50:38). I might could maybe admit that I definitely wanted her to succeed and wanted her music to reach the masses. But I stand by my reviews. I never "gave" her a perfect review, she earned it. That being said, this is her best body of work to me. This album feels curated with care in every sense of the word. There are no weak spots to attack. It is thematically thoughtful, insightful and daring. While industry/mainstream "Hip Hop" is still riding the wave of platinum radio and club hits, we are seeing a shift in power. Kind off. This year alone we at BITM have commented that we are getting more lyrical Hip Hop albums than we were 4-5 years ago. Will there be a drastic dynamic overarching change? No. But the slow burn is being felt by Hip Hop heads and hopefully we continue to support and champion these efforts. If you haven't yet done so, start that today and scoop up that Laila's Wisdom

Peep video for "Power" and DA WHOLE DAMN ALBUM (how?) below.

| Like us on Facebook || Follow us on Twitter |

10 October 2017

SINGLE: Big K.R.I.T. - Confetti

On August 17th Big KRIT's manager simply posted on Twitter that, "Big K.R.I.T. album officially done and turned in". Since then, Hip Hop heads been on sleuth-mode to be "first" to hear a teaser or actual single. Two weeks ago KRIT deleted all of his IG posts and started posting black screens. Finally he uploaded three posts that had the words (in order of posts): "TI", "FET", "CON". When viewed on his page we got the word "CONFETTI". The actual single dropped on Friday, October 6th.

The double album, 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time, is slated to drop on Friday, October 27th (joint on pre-order now, you know we got it on deck). The single "Confetti" displays KRIT's lyrical acumen as he flexes his braggadocio bars while at the same time shitting on the current Hip Hip landscape.

What else to say, top shelf KRIT all around. He just turned October into a LONG month for Hip Hop heads in need of a lyrical hero.

Peep single below.

| Like us on Facebook || Follow us on Twitter |

08 October 2017

SINGLE: Blu & Exile - Constellations

With the announcement of the Hip hop duo's prequel album In The Beginning: Before the Heavens back in September, it appeared as if Blu & Exile were going back to the basics to finally give fans what we've been waiting for since 2007's masterpiece Below the Heavens.  Welllllllll, kinda.  If you thought these cats were gonna bless us with some new flavor 10yrs later, you're just gonna have to keep waiting.  In The Beginning: Before the Heavens  will be a compilation of tracks that were left on the cutting room floor back in 2007.  This can be looked at both ways; on one hand the bars and production should at least be comparable to what we remember about Below the Heavens, but there's also a reason these songs never made the cut.  So it's a glass half-empty / half-full type situation.  Since I have been waiting for something like this for a decade, I'm going with the latter.  Peep the first 'single' from Blu & Exile's B-Sides project called "Constellations."

| Like us on Facebook || Follow us on Twitter |

11 August 2017

REVIEW: JAY-Z - 4:44

Let's be honest, Jay has had a rough go at it since he "came back wearing the 4-5."  He hasn't really struggled with hit singles or album sales, but he has most certainly had difficulty creating a cohesive project that could be compared to his most legendary work.  The problem is, as die-hard fans of pre-retirement HOV, we long for a project that will make us feel that same sense of excitement we felt when The Dynasty was released in 2000.  On a similar note, we continue to hope that JAY-Z will bless us with another The Blueprint, The Black Album, or Reasonable Doubt again at some point because we spent so many years in the 90s and early 2000s being blessed (spoiled) with quality projects annually.  As a result, the sheer desire for great music from HOV since he came out of retirement in 2006 has certainly clouded our vision.  We tend to tolerate mediocrity due mostly in part to the anticipation factor we had become accustomed to a decade prior.

Enter 2017.  We start hearing rumblings from multiple outlets that Jay is back in the lab cooking up another project.  Those same levels of hope reach fever pitch all over again the same way they did with Magna Carta Holy Grail, Watch the Throne, The Blueprint 3, American Gangster, and Kingdom Come (all of which were let-downs in some way).  To add fuel to the hype train, it was also revealed that the legendary No I.D. would be handling production on the entire album.  It's at this point that my ears perk up.  I think back to all of the classic Common projects No I.D. has contributed to and how dope it would be if we finally got an album in that same vein from HOV.  For the most part, it's safe to say that JAY-Z has delivered on his thirteenth studio album 4:44.

"Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense (but I did five mil)  I ain't been rhymin like Common since."

Judging from this line on "Moment of Clarity" off The Black Album, it's clear that HOV wished he were able to create conscious music throughout his career, but the sheer strength of his hustler spirit and propensity to make all the money in the world simply hasn't allowed him to go that route until now.  One thing that is immediately evident when listening to 4:44 is that the basic skeletal beats are almost jarring on the first listen.  If you made the mistake like I did of thinking this album would somehow be on the level of No I.D.'s most iconic work, you might be a bit disappointed early on.  It took me awhile to adjust my ear to exactly the type of music I was listening to.  This isn't a casual album to cruise around to in the whip, nor does it have anything truly worthy of being played in any club.  It is so far from your typical JAY-Z fare that people expecting at least a few radio bangers are going to be sorely disappointed, as the only track that even comes close is "Bam" featuring Damian Marley.  4:44 is more of a teaching piece, and deserves your undivided attention, as HOV is constantly dropping gems verse after verse.

Going into the album we have "Kill Jay-Z," a powerful re-introduction to HOV where he goes into destroy-and-rebuild mode in order to re-focus on what's really important in life; family.  He offers a mild apology to his wife, while possibly cementing the rift between he and his protege Kanye West. He also reflects on the possibility of what could have happened to his life and his family had he continued down this "IDGAF cuz I'm HOV" route:

"Nigga never go Eric Benet.  I don't even know what you would have done, in the Future other niggaz playin football with your son."

This song is important because while fans have been exposed to several aspects of HOV's professional side, we've never been given a window into the life and times of Shawn Carter on an intimate and introspective level.  From there we have "The Story of O.J." which basically sheds light on prominent black celebrities who have essentially denied their blackness at the height of their success, but try to come crawling back to the culture after they've faced a certain level of adversity.  Another topic this song addresses is how to acquire generational wealth, but also serves as a warning to remember where you came from no matter how much you achieve.  These first two tracks almost tie into one another because essentially it shows a forward-thinking HOV analyzing the direction his own life would have gone and everything he would have lost had he continued down this path of feeling entitled to what ever he wants due to his accomplishments.

I could go on and break things down track by track, but honestly, albums like these don't even deserve to be scrutinized in the same way as other artists.  Listen, whether or not a person thinks the album is good doesn't even really matter.  The amount of game he's blessing the listener with outweighs any sort of review.  4:44 is so much more than just an album, and that is why if HOV were to completely bow out of the game, it would mark the perfect end to his storied career.  This is an album for the ambitious marginalized youth out there seeking to find ways to help uplift themselves, their families, and their culture.  At the same time, it's an album for the old head who may have lost his way due to ego or pride, and is seeking guidance on how to reclaim what's most important in life.  4:44 is in a league of its own, and is chock full of so many timeless jewels, it's hard to see this one aging as fast as his albums of the past ten years.  In this era of "wokeness" we currently live in, HOV couldn't have picked a more opportune time to give fans his most conscious project to date.

Even seventeen years after his prime, the motto "I Will Not Lose" continues to ring true.

| Like us on Facebook || Follow us on Twitter |

28 July 2017

VIDEO: Kendrick Lamar ft. Rihanna - LOYALTY.

Despite the fact The Niftian awarded DAMN. with our highest praise of 5 Tapes, I personally am not the biggest proponent for Kung Fu Kenny's latest project (stay tuned for the BITM Podcast Ep. 4 for more on that).  Nonetheless, the videos Kendrick Lamar continues to crank out are some of the most creative visuals of his career.

Again, K. DOT links up with Dave Meyers, one of the most prolific music video directors in history, to bring us the video for "LOYALTY." ft. Rihanna.  For the uninitiated, Dave Meyers is responsible for such classic videos as Missy Elliott's "Work It," and "Get Ur Freak On," Outkast's "B.O.B.," and "So Fresh So Clean,"  Jay-Z's "I Just Wanna Love U," and even Kendrick Lamar's own "HUMBLE." video from earlier this year.  Kenny has been enjoying an enormous amount of success as of late as his album DAMN. was just awarded with a double platinum plaque, and it's a safe bet that the amazing visuals from "LOYALTY." will help further those numbers.  Peep the video below and stay tuned to BITM for all things Hip hop.

| Like us on Facebook || Follow us on Twitter |

19 July 2017

VIDEO: Vic Mensa - Rage

Chi Town emcee Vic Mensa is getting set to drop his first LP, The Autobiography, on July 28th. Since his solo mixtape in 2013, Innanetape, Vic has been on a meteoric rise. That same year he joined Cole and Wale on the What Dreams May Come Tour. The next year he made the XXL Freshman Class. Meh, but an accomplishment nonetheless. After a few Kanye collabs, he signed to Roc Nation in 2015. A couple of EPs later, he is now set to make his Roc Nation studio album debut.

Last month Vic dropped the 4 track EP, The Manuscript. It was meant to serve as an appetizer to The Autobiography. The first EP track, "Rage", will also appear on his LP as a bonus track. "Rage" is a beautifully polished track with great harmony and a strong message. Vic says that "'Rage' is an epic about my life and my perspectives on my position in the world. And overcoming gravity. Just fighting against gravity and trying to continuously rise upward. And it’s a message I want to give to people because kids commit suicide because they get torn down by the things that seem impossible to overcome, and I’ve felt like that a million times. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like ending it all. But ‘Rage’ is that light through the darkness." The track (especially the chorus) borrows themes from Dylan Thomas' poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. Both poets analyze death and pain, but both works also champion fighting against the hardships of life.

The video shows literal manifestations of this theme. Vic is flying in a private jet that is crashing into the ocean. The strongest visuals come as Vic raps in the plane that is tearing apart around him and as he plunges into the ocean. The song is also littered with strong metaphors and poignant visuals. But Vic does a great job with the video and keeps it focused on one a strong theme.

And some bonus knowledge for yall. The Autobiography release date of July 28th is also the same date as Peru's independence day. I'm sure yall already knew that. So, enjoy the day with Mensa and big ol plate of lomo saltado and a cold Cusqueña.

Peep the cinematic video below.

| Like us on Facebook || Follow us on Twitter |

06 July 2017

SINGLES: Joey Bada$$ - 500 Benz, Too Lit, and Love Is Only A Feeling

Happy Independence Day from the BITM family. Hope yall had a fun and safe holiday. But if you just stayed home and passed out as the fireworks started going off (like me), then we got some left over pyrotechnics for you that dropped yesterday, July 5th.

Joey Bada$$ is still riding high off of his critically acclaimed studio album All-Amerikkkan Bada$$. Not only did we give the album an amazing review, but the Badmon made it into another podcast discussion. And yesterday, out of nowhere, the Pro Era capo posted on social media that he was dropping 3 tracks. All three tracks are produced by Statik Selektah. That combo alone should make you run down the tracks below. If not, do it anyways. The pairing of Statik and Joey is easily becoming one of my new favorite emcee/producer duos.

Peep all three singles below.

| Like us on Facebook || Follow us on Twitter |

28 June 2017

VIDEO: Kendrick Lamar - ELEMENT.

Two days after winning BET's Best Male Hip-Hop Artist award, Kung Fu Kenny dropped another video to accompany his last LP, DAMN. Early this month I saw articles about Kendrick and Rihanna on the set for the single, "LOYALTY." When I saw the alerts that Kendrick dropped a new video, I thought it was for said single. Instead we get visuals for the track "ELEMENT."

The song itself is a braggadocio track that depicts Kendrick's pre-fame life and warns the rest that he is willing to do whatever it takes to keep his current lifestyle. His struggles and hard work made him the man he is today, one that has a seat with the upper echelon emcees in the game. There are probably a million things that you could dissect in this music video, and I'm sure something new will stand out with every watch. There are very few frames with Kenny rapping, instead we get very strong and poignant visuals of aggressive and beautiful imagery juxtaposed with one another.

King Kendrick keeps dropping gems on em. Yes, that was a Mobb Deep reference. And bringing it all back together, Kendrick thanked Prodigy in his acceptance speech. 

| Like us on Facebook || Follow us on Twitter |

REVIEW: Big Boi - Boomiverse

With Prodigy's recent untimely passing, it got me thinking about other Hip Hop duos that have had success with their group and solo projects. Outkast has to be up there. And I know technically Andre 3000 hasn't dropped a legit solo album, but I'm counting The Love Below. Plus, Stacks has a PLETHORA of features that could make an LP to rival any emcee. I could speak on the greatness of Stacks for days (he did come out on top of BITM's emcee bracket), but I digress. This article will focus on the other half of the ATLien duo, Big Boi. And specifically his third solo LP, Booomiverse (Big Grams was an EP, and really a collab). But since his solo debut in 2010 with Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, Big Boi hasn't been able to put together a complete offering that lives up to his potential. The 12 track Boomiverse is Big Boi's attempt to prove he can reach the heights of his Outkast days.

Big Boi ends the intro track, "Da Next Day", pulling on your nostalgic strings with the spoken words of Big Rube. Most Kast fans know him as the intro and interlude voice that appears across Outkast albums (along with other Dungeon Family projects). The soulful track "Liberation" from Aquemini contains Rube's best bar (in my opinion), "you got more juice than Zeus". Overall the track is strong start for Daddy Fat Sax. BUT THEN, then we get the HARDEST track on the album. We've posted the single and video for "Kill Jill". So all I'll say is this, if you haven't peeped the track yet. Stop reading this article, go hear/view it ASAP, and come on back. The track "In The South" sounds like it was plucked straight from a Big KRIT joint (which is a good thing). This one features Gucci Mane and Pimp C., and you get exactly what you expect, a straight south lean track (not in a bad mumble way). Of course Big Boi dominates lyrically and elevates the track all around. My second favorite track (or first depending when you ask me) is "Order of Operation". Big Boi drops lyrical and literal gems throughout the track (this might be the strongest lyrical track on the whole album). Don't know who Eric Bellinger is, but he lends his skills on the hook. Tracks like "Made Man" and "Follow Deez" provide gritty beats for Big Boi to drop hard bars with assists from Renegade El Rey, Kurupt, Killer Mike and Curren$y.

Then there is the 80's funky/synthy track "Mic Jack", which is a bit out of place but not necessarily a bad track. Radio friendly tracks like "All Night" and "Overthunk" seem more contemporary. But seem out of place, especially when you only have 12 tracks to play with. And the Snoop feature on "Get Wit It" has strong West Coast influenced instrumental, but doesn't hit as hard as it should. Especially when bringing these lyrical titans together (for the first(?) time). The overly techno infused "Chocolate" might become a club favorite, but isn't one that I'll go back to that many times. At least not sober. And "Freakonomics" feels like a Ludacris track from his Blueberry Yum Yum days. Again, a bit out of place.

With a dozen tracks, Boomiverse falls a bit short in terms of cohesiveness. And I don't want to the tell a legend "to stay in his lane", because that's not the case at all. I do think Stacks has mastered the ability to jump on ANY track and be more lyrically..malleable (let's go with that). But Big Boi was always able to "keep up" with the more eccentric Outkast member. And you can see the paragraph of "pros" is much larger than the "cons" one. When the album hits, it HITS. But here are a few meh tracks, and a couple of tracks that shouldn't have made it to the final product. Big Boi delivers range throughout the project and his lyrical prowess is front and center. But the tracks with other lyrical emcees and subjectively better instrumentals shine brighter. His potential as an emcee is what makes his true fans judge him harsher (that's a word right?) than others. Big Boi notches another solo project that comes close to reaching that bar, but leaves fans wondering what a record that reaches that bar might sound like. 

| Like us on Facebook || Follow us on Twitter |

23 June 2017

BITM Podcast Ep. 3 - The Industry Vs. Lil Boat

It's been a long time coming, but we are back at it again with another episode of the BITM Podcast.  This time we dive into what motivates an artist to make music, by way of a heated exchange between Joe Budden and Lil Yachty on Complex's morning show "Everyday Struggle." We also touch on a couple of notable albums of last year, with the intention of leading into projects from 2017 before descending into a nonsensical drunken stupor and completely losing focus yet again LOL, smh...


| Like us on Facebook || Follow us on Twitter |