25 December 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: T.I. - Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head

 Twon Johnson and myself recently chopped it up concerning T.I.’s eighth studio offering, Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head. The consensus was mutual: the album is fire and Clifford Harris hasn’t lost his passion, zeal or salesmanship, despite the many obstacles he’s faced in his life and his career. Although it does have its shortcomings, the album reminded us of a slightly less troubling time for Tip around the time of KING. Peep the convo…

Twon Johnson: Whenever a vet drops a new album, I think its natural to wanna compare the latest project to the rest of their catalog. Dunno about you but that was all I was doing the whole time I was listening to this joint. Not only was I stacking his albums up against each other, I was thinking about his status in the game. Past couple years I was getting worried that the jail shit would compromise his legendary status especially in the eyes of youngins since they all moved on to Future and 2 Chainz. It ain’t even about underground or mainstream to me when it comes to TI, this man is an artist. He's a lyricist. He's a fuckin' beast. I feel like he laid all doubts to rest wit Trouble Man

The Niftian: I truly feel sorry for anyone that decided to sleep on the King of the South, real talk. I wasn't too keen on some of his most recent work after KING, but I still rocked with him.

TJ: Well can we blame his jail stints on the lack of overall quality on Paper Trail and No Mercy? What do you think happened with TI vs TIP? You think he just got complacent? Cuz back then I think its safe to say he was on top of the game. But that VS album seem like it was just riding off the coat tails of KINGThen he really started stumbling. Sucks too cuz if you take the hottest tracks off VS thru No Mercy, you'd have a pretty hot album. Can we blame his descent on complacency? Prison? Or did the game just move on, and he wasn’t able to keep up? I hate to blame it on jail cuz he got arrested after Trap Muzik also. When he finally got out he blew our minds with Urban Legend.

TN: No. Jail is no excuse. If anything, I think it gave him some juice. Everyone knows he has skill, and no artist that I can think of has stellar albums every single time out the gate. But I do think he got a tad bit lazy on T.I. vs TIP, but half of that album was fire. "Touchdown" was ass, though. Ugh. Eminem was at his absolute worst. Good thing he made up for it with “That’s All She Wrote” off No Mercy

TJ: I was talking to one of my boys earlier about the Andre 3000 verse (on “Sorry") and how that shit will probably just go over everyone's heads. But man it's songs like this that kinda solidify TI's status as an ARTIST and not just a rapper. He stepped his game up lyrically so he wouldn't be sorely outshined by Stacks. I think about the first time I heard "Sixteen" off Rick Ross' album, I was like WTF is Ross talking about? Rambling about the same jewels and shit, might as well have just been an Andre 3000 song. But on "Sorry" it's definitely a true collaboration (even though at this point, I feel like 3000 is unfuckwitable). TI still held his own. 

I don't think TIP gets respect as a dope lyricist just because of the reputation of rappers from the south. You see the growth in this man’s ability on damn near every song on the album. My only real problem wit this album is some of the OTHER collab choices. Namely A$AP Rocky. I have a feeling Rocky paid TIP for this shit, cuz there's just no way he believed in this man’s ability. I respect the fact Tip giving the young dude a shot but damn, Rocky couldn't even keep up wit the beat.

I used to have a problem with TI singing on hooks (and I still do with songs like "Love This Life") but for the most part it doesn't take away from most songs on this album. "The Way We Ride" is a fucking banger! I feel like a lot of these songs could be singles because of the sheer amount of smooth catchy hooks. It's really hard for me to sit here and try to find shit wrong with TM, it's kinda like I'm searching for chinks in armor, which is a good problem to have IMO. 

TN: Andre 3000: beast. I had to listen to "Sorry" a few times to truly try and get the message. Andre fucking kills, which is nothing short of the spectacular usual. He spills a lot more truths and personal feelings than usual, which is saying something because Andre 3000 is always honest with his rhymes.

A$AP Rocky: beastly. I am not a big A$AP fan but I can tolerate him. His verse on “Wildside" killed an otherwise great song. He definitely didn't play up to the potential that I've seen. However, he is a young up and coming rapper and therefore gets first dibs as a featured artist on many artist's tracks. Politically, I get it. Artistically, I hate it. 

Also much as I love the album, I have a problem with the skit placement. I see each retrospective act as a necessary element to telling the story of his life and what has given him the right to take on Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man," as he has indeed seen his fair share of trouble. However, necessary as they are, I hate that each skit starts off a song and therefore can't be skipped. Either put them at the end of the preceding song or make them a separate track. I hate attempting to fast forward through a skit, as I usually miss the mark and end up into the beginning of the actual song, which is just annoying. 

TJ: Skit placement is such an underrated and oft overlooked factor when it comes to putting a solid album together. Kendrick got it right by putting all his at the end of the previous song on good kid, m.A.A.d. city. Having it as a separate track, or at the beginning, severely destroys the flow of an album, especially when you get to the point where everything is on shuffle status. I think that only hiphop blog nerds like ourselves see this as a big issue, but I feel like skits are really only important for your initial run through of an album. After that, they are almost unnecessary. I wonder why his exec producers didnt step in and set him straight.

But back to the music. The last track on the album, "Like That" was SO necessary. It illustrates the struggles Tip went through trying to put this album together, and probably explains the reason he went 120 hard in the booth. After those lackluster albums, Tip was aware that fans were clamoring for that "Trap Nigga Shit." After all, if we go back to "Dope Boyz, U Dont Know Me, and What You Know," its songs like those that made him.
At the same time though, songs like "Lets Get Away, Why You Wanna," and "Whatever You Like" helped with sales. TIP suffers from amassing such a wide range of fans over the years that it becomes difficult for him to find a way to appeal to them all. While Paper Trail may have been too pop for some, Trap Muzik / Urban Legend may have been too hard for others. I think he found the perfect balance of both on Trouble Man without compromising the sound that defines him.

TN: I think TI has done a freaking FANTASTIC job of finding that happy medium between hardcore trap songs and radio friendly "ballads" for the ladies, something that Ja Rule laid the groundwork for in the early 2000s but couldn't quite perfect. Although I'm not typically a fan of the likes of "Love This Life," I can appreciate it from a fiscal standpoint. Women spend money on albums and women drive radio ratings. You have to please the ladies, whether you can sing or not. LOL

Tip has done what so many only wish they could do: stay true to their street roots, live the life they talk about in AND out of the media, stay mostly consistent with their flow and skill...and come out of jail with career intact. 

What's your absolute favorite song? Personally, and this surprised me, "Can You Learn" is the track that gets the most spins from me. I think it's because it's the song I relate to most at this time in my life. Hell, I've never related more to TI than I did with this track. And R. Kelly on the hook doesn't hurt at all. I played this for a lady friend who means a lot to me and she and I instantly connected over it. I see her as a rider and she knows the part she is playing in my life. It’s almost like it was written for us.

I think the better question is what songs DONT I like on this album. Probably "Love This Life" because its clearly the "Whatever You Like" clone. My fave tracks so far are “The Introduction, Trap Back Jumpin', The Way We Ride, Cruisin', Who Want Some" and "Like That.”

Well, there you have it, folks. Twon and I rarely agree on anything and yet we both feel that this is one of the strongest efforts to come out of the machine this year. It sucks that it came out so close to the end of the year, but it was an effort that definitely needed to cook. Allegedly, T.I. recorded over 120 songs for this album (look out for a Trouble Man, part 2 next year) and it took some time to get the tracklisting just right. We appreciate that. That being said, the skit placement, features from the likes of A$AP Rocky and Lil Wayne and pop heavy songs like “Love This Life” and “Guns and Roses” don’t necessarily appeal to our particular urban nature. However, they are nowhere near enough to kill the skill and vibe of this album. Hell, “Wildside” is loved by both of us minus A$AP’s shoddy flow. For these reasons, Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head gets a solid four out of five tapes from the BITM crew. If you haven’t already, cop that jawn. The Niftian, out...

15 December 2012

A Dying Breed

In urban culture today, you tend to see a high rate of fearlessness. Folks are eager to express themselves either through entertainment or fashion. There is nothing wrong with expressing ones individuality, but where does the bar of acceptability lie? How far will a person go to avoid blending in with established trends? Has the well of creativety come so close to running dry that men feel a necessity to borrow styles from the opposite sex?

When you look at the overwhelming amount of femininity permeating the formerly impenetrable walls of masculinity in urban society these days, men just seem to be losing. As women are increasingly becoming the bread winners of households, it's almost like men are just turning into straigth bitches. Terms like "metrosexual" are now commonplace and accepted in society. Grown ass men rock skin tight jeans that appear to suffocate all air and comfort to the sack, the one aspect of our existence that defines our manhood. Men, particularly those in urban media and in the public eye, rock earrings in both ears, and won't hesitate to promote fragances that bear striking resemblances to perfume. You also often hear about women complaining that their men spend more time in front of the mirror than they do. The list goes on and on, and after Kanye West's performance the other day, this suspect behavior shows no signs of slowing down.

R&B music used to have its share of male singers who actually sounded like men. Baritone and bass voices are a thing of the past. Nowadays you probably can't find a single person in R&B who isn't trying to hit Mariah Carey notes in their music, and even the content itself is emasculating. There have always been rumors about an underground gay society that rules everything in urban media, with figures like Puffy at the forefront, but naturally, much like the rumors of the illuminati in control from behind the scenes, there's no hard facts to back this speculation. There's a saying that goes, "Believe none of what you hear, and half of what you see." If there's any truth to that, then Kanye West just proved he is at least HALF a fruit booty. What man in their right mind would think rocking a leather skirt on national television is acceptable? How has Lil Wayne gotten away with wearing leopard print jeggings on stage in his performances? And what the FUCK is wrong with Drake's wrist (see: any performance from Aubrey on youtube).

Andre 3000 made a song years ago where he mentioned that soon we will have to visit museums to see what a lady looks like. That couldn't be further from the truth. Ladies are everywhere these days. Well, their tendecies are, at least. With the way urban society is now, you can find lady traits in females and in men. The endangered species in urban culture is not ladies at all, it's men who act like men. The booty warrior, Fleece Johnson (again, youtube. Or Boondocks) would have a field day with these motherfuckers and the way they carry themselves. And unfortunately I don't think anyone has the answer or the solution to this problem. I don't know that society as a whole sees this as enough of a problem or detriment to take action against it. The desire for androgyny may consume urban culture in future generations, I just pray that when I bring a child into this world and he gets old enough to express his individuality, it's something that I can be proud of.

05 December 2012

How The West Was "One"

When you think about the state of the game in New York today, it's not long before you realize it's in shambles. Even the south isn't what it was during its ten plus years of dominance. When these regions were in their prime, the one constant that existed between both of them was, and still is, the most underrated aspect of Hip-Hop; Unity.

You look at epic collaborations from the 90s like "Scenario" and "Flava In Ya Ear" and you see a hoarde of some of the best talent from that era setting their egos aside to shine together on legendary records. Even lesser known supergroups like "The Firm," and the timeless music put out by the entire Dungeon Family in any capacity helped strengthen the reign of these regions, because everyone had one common goal in mind; to provide their fans with great music no matter what the cost.

Nowadays New York rappers are abandoning their own hometowns and latching on to other movements to find success. And the ones who do remain true to their area, typically still release great music, but it often falls on deaf ears because their "city ain't poppin no more." The problem lies with the fact that once a city starts to get cold, every artist starts fending for themselves either in order to stay relevant, or make their mark on the game.

One major factor that leads to the division of a region is when an artist releases a diss record that backfires and sparks unnecessary, and often times overly drawn out beef. These disses are typically released with hopes of an artist re-establishing a buzz for themselves. Jay-Z once mentioned that the essence of Hip-Hop is "the battle." If these diss records were simple displays of lyricism that strictly remained on wax, that would be one thing. But over the past decade plus, rap beefs have done nothing but weaken the reputation of Hip-Hop within a given region by taking an aspect of this art form and turning it ugly by making it personal. With southern rappers, it has become so easy to get record deals by releasing catchy trash, these guys could care less about assisting or co-signing another artist from their area who actually has talent. They say it takes a village to raise a child, So does that mean that New York based rapper Joey Bada$$ and Big K.R.I.T. from Mississippi will fade into obsurity simply because where they're from isn't as hot anymore? Are the new gifted crop of rappers doomed to fail before their careers even take off due to mistakes made by the selfishness of the artists who preceded them?

If the game was modeled after the blueprint laid out by the west coast over the past 20 years, the answer is a loud and thunderous HELL NAW, NIGGA! Chances are, your favorite west coast artist from the 90s is still enjoying a healthy career on his home soil. And not only are they probably still releasing new albums, they are also continuing to collaborate with other legends to keep the coast alive. Rappers like E-40, Too Short, and Snoop Dogg have remained true to the areas that raised them, and in turn, the fans have remained true to them. There is a pure and genuine sense of unity on the West Coast that is unrivalved nationwide, and has remained consistent ever since Hip-Hop began being recognized as actual music to the "masses."

This unspoken bond between legends has trickled down to a new generation of artists that are primed for longevity in the game. Speaking of which, Compton rapper "The Game" has been known to publicly squash potential beefs between young artists because he fully understands the self-destructive nature of trying to take down another artist or rapper. At the end of the day, fans would rather hear great music than witnessing TMZ fodder.

Any true Hip-Hop fan who is in tune with the current state of the game probably has several artists from Cali that they are following simply because these artists are collaborating with legends and other up-and-comers, which is naturally translating to a slew of ab-soul-utely fantastic music for their fans. You got vets like Murs droppin multiple albums a year collaborating with youngins like Kendrick Lamar and Fashawn. You got vets like The Game giving Tyler the Creator some shine on his album. And you got youngins like Dom Kennedy on everybody's shit. You don't see west coast rappers beefin with other west coast rappers. These kids, as well as the old heads, fully understand the formula for longevity in this game. Armed with knowledge from the ones who did it before them, though, this new era of west coast artists are prepared to do it better than the rappers they grew up on. And in the end, they all plan on eatin.

Even though their goals learn more toward individual success, they won't hesitate to band together as one unified front poised to once again take over the game.