Posted tagged ‘east coast’

Mr. Beatz “Spit Therapy” – Album Review

March 30, 2010

"Yes, you've seen me." Mr. Beatz

Few faces are as ubiquitous in the New York underground Hip-Hop scene as Mr. Beatz. Having been seen everywhere from the dead prez “(Bigger Than) Hip Hop” and Homeboy Sandman “Lightning Bolt” videos to being the special guest DJ for all of your five-borough favorites, it’s rare to even open your window without seeing Mr. Beatz somewhere out there supporting Hip-Hop. Whether it be DJing, MCing, or just about any other aspect of the Hip-Hop culture, chances are you’ve seen Beatz do it. Finally, after a decade of being a dependable staple, he’s ready to unleash his debut album Spit Therapy.

Not one to let any of his talents go to waste, Beatz handles the bulk of the album’s rhymes, beats and scratches. Such a rare trait is exactly why the record sounds as cohesive as it does. Being such a Hip-Hop renaissance man has given him a unique ear, finely tuned to know exactly how he wants the album to sound. The strengths of this tremendous advantage extends beyond his own work in to the album’s contributions of others. Like the best Hollywood directors, Beatz knows what outside production fits the soundscape and who would sound the best over it. East Coast favorites such as Homeboy Sandman (“The Cypher”), M-Tri, Niles Davis and Stronghold’s Poison Pen (“Underground’s Finest”) and Solomon Jazz (the album’s title track) all give some of their best guest performances, complimenting the record perfectly.

But Beatz’s solified persona is why the album works. While I’m typically of the belief that a changing man is more interesting than a changed man, the combination of his knowledge-of-self and honesty gives Spit Therapy the strongest portrayal of a New York artist this year. Sounding like something that would feel right at home if released on Fondle ‘Em Records, the dedication here shows a man who attempts to pull out all the stops in order to make the best rap album of 1997 in 2010. With exclusively sample-based production and non-singing repetition-based hooks, he makes it easy to guess what makes up his iPod playlists. Even his vocal performances, while they bear the same vocal inflections as his freestyles that give the album a certain energy and unpredictability, the attention to syllables shows someone who must have racked his brain for hours on end to max out every possible rhyme possibility.

See him live! I'll be there too! Could you pick me up a Diet Pepsi on the way for me? Thanks!

However, it’s these moments of overthinking things where the record comes up short. While many of the East Coast underground singles of the late-90s that most influenced this record had their flaws come from the aspects that didn’t age well, Spit Therapy suffers from the same troubles, only now the wounds are fresh. While it was a nice almost-nostalgic feeling of hearing someone non-ironically using the word “lyrically” as an adverb again, by the end of the album its presence is just a little too much. The same goes for Beatz’s own intros and outros on the songs. While the conversational tone he strikes with his collaborators like The Avid Record Collector (“Plain and Simple”) and Skammadix (“Blues Brothers”) replicates the fun he had making the song in the listening, there are a handful of moments where his post-song rants become him beating the listener over the head with the concept. With an album that defines so clearly who Beatz as a person is, it’s just unnecessary for him to tell us who he isn’t.

Who he is goes beyond the album’s aesthetics and goes as far to break the fourth wall at moments and show, in his words, “not even Mr. Beatz right now, but Randy Wing.” “Above Water” deals with the very real oft-overlooked aspects of maintaining a real life while your nights are spent rapping, “Throw it All Away” chronicles every rappers’ moments of self doubt and the unexpected closer “Pictures and Memories” deals with the dimensions of mourning one goes through at a lost loved one’s wake. These songs elevate the record as Spit Therapy’s primary focus of braggadocios battle rap and boom-bap purity follows a formula that wouldn’t normally lend itself to such intimacy and vulnerability. What results is a very balanced MPC Manifesto of an MC who knows exactly what he wants to do and almost does it perfectly. The album that any number of 90s battle rappers should have released a decade ago, Spit Therapy stands alone as underground rap’s renaissance, requiem and regeneration.

We give Spit Therapy a Three Out of Five.

So until next time…Let’s Agree to Agree!

B. Dolan and Alias “Fallen House, Sunken City” – Album Review

March 3, 2010

"It's deeper than Atlantis."

At a time when rappers flood the market every three months with their official 80-minute-long mixtapes, the idea of a rap album being ten years in the making is unfathomable. While the actual production from-conception-to-recording on Fallen House, Sunken City took two years, MC B.Dolan has painstakingly poured a decade of emotion from things he said, did or heard about* into one ghastly nightmare of a sophomore album. While I enjoyed his first release, 2008’s The Failure, I found it not so much a rap album as an audio performance art piece. Even during its more Hip-Hop moments, the focus seemed moreso on the world Dolan was creating all his own than making a great traditional rap song. But now Dolan is back, turning his one-man show into an apocalyptic Hip-Hop vaudeville duocracy with producer Alias (“Divine Disappointment,” Sage Francis’ “Message Sent”) and inviting all to check out one of the most haunted open houses you’ll ever attend.

The album’s journey begins with Dolan’s journey ending as the autobiographical “Leaving NY” chronicles his final days in a city where a post-9/11 haze clouded a dream he once had and forced his return to Rhode Island. From there, the album seems to stop at every small town along the way as Dolan peels the scabs off of the modern capitalist hustle (“Fifty Ways to Bleed Your Customer”) urban sprawl (“Earthmovers”) and the forgotten human face of the economic crisis (“Economy of Words”). Dolan’s performance plays as somewhat of a spiritual successor to label head Sage Francis’ album Hope as it is rich with references so well implemented that you might not even catch them within the first few listens. The difference, however, is while Sage’s sounded like a nostalgic winking-to-the-audience, Dolan’s loom like an apparition coming home to roost. Even if one doesn’t quite catch all of them, Dolan’s wordplay is enough to still make sense of what’s going on and anticipate the next hallway of horrors.

But credit for the album’s success is just as much that of producer Alias. The chemistry between the two is off the charts, giving an Ennio Morricone-vibe to the project that makes the rapper’s most profound and memorable moments inseparable from the soundscape they exists within. With Dolan’s accolades as a spoken word artist well documented, Alias utilizes his vocals’ every degree of emotion from the somber (“Marvin”) to the incidiary (“Border Crossing”) to the sadistically self-depricating (“Kitchen Sink”). It’s the first time in his nearly two-decade career that Alias has produced a full-length for someone other than himself, and the result is tremendous.

Not since the days of The Micranots has there been a rap album so politically charged without being overtly political. In a post-Bush era that saw the “conscious” sect change their rallying cry from “Bush sucks” to “everything sucks,” most rappers who claim to follow politics** feel more concerned with screaming a message they barely understand than making good rap music. I don’t need my favorite artists in any medium to agree with my personal politics, but with the craftsmanship put into Fallen House, Sunken City it becomes a moot point as I’m convinced a bizarro right-wing B. Dolan would make an album just as dope. This is mainly due to Dolan not making his politics the main selling point of the album. He’s a storyteller of the guided tour variety, a warped Clarence Oddbody showing you that the lives around you really aren’t all that wonderful. It’s only on repeat listens when you penetrate the underbelly and discover the source of the empathy this cynic is pulling out of you. These 12 tracks are great at face value, but it is infinitely refreshing that an East Coast artist in today’s Hip-Hop respects his audience enough to let them uncover the most subtle of subtleties.

I can reccommend this album if only for what an incredible first listen it is. I received it in my inbox the night after my Curtis Plum review went up and planned to only listen to a song or two before I went to bed. What resulted was me being glued to the speakers, sitting wide-eyed in front of the computer for the album’s entire 47 minute duration. The cinematic experience herein forces you to hang on to Dolan’s every word for dear life. Not since Redman’s Whut? Thee Album have I been so completely captivated by a first listen. It’s only after you collect yourself following your first encounter that you can begin to put the pieces together. The album finishes strong with the P.O.S. and Cadence Weapon-assisted “Fall of T.R.O.Y.,” where Dolan contemplates the present-state of his rap heroes (“You’re not a Soulja Boy, You’re a mercenary in a cryogenic sleep“) and “Buddy Buddy,” a scathing indictment of some of the “artists” he’s been forced to encounter over the years. The album has very few missteps in the form of a remaining vagueness in certain songs that only really surface after repeat listens, but it’s somewhat understandable with the size of the giants in the 12-song tracklisting. Fallen House, Sunken City is a powerful paranoid pulverizing piledriver of an album and makes a welcome addition to any record collection or bomb shelter.

We give Fallen House, Sunken City a Four Out of Five.

Until next time…let’s agree to agree!

*Which, if OC is reading, means first-hand AND word-of-mouth. While we’re at it: HEY GREG NICE – Dizzy Gillespie played the trumpet, HEY WARREN G – “next” is spelled “n-e-x-t,” and CAN-I-BUS – just give me a phone call as we really need to discuss your math homework.

**As opposed to the ones that, you know, actually follow politics. By that I mean those who didn’t skip their local elections to hand out the umpteenth edition of their “7/11 TRUTH – OBAMA WASN’T BORN HERE AND KILLED CHRIS BENOIT” DVD-Rs.


January 30, 2010


It’s a little known fact that everybody knows and agrees on “SUPREME CLIENTELE” by Ghostface Killah being the absolute best rap album of the decade. It came out within the first quarter of the first year and stood for the entire stretch without being topped. You’ve had ten years to listen to it and chances are if you’re reading this you’re either nodding and going “Why yes, I agree with this statement” or you’re buying the album off for $6.99 here or you’re a lame. Regardless, putting this album at the top of another list is masturbatory at best and auto-erotically asphyxiating at worst. So, how about we talk about the ten best rap albums that aren’t this album, eh? Alright, let’s make with the rap-rap!

Also, I’ve deliberately chosen to share songs that weren’t singles because #1 these entire albums are awesome and #2 I’m awesome.

10) Turf Talk – “West Coast Vaccine” (2007)
The magnum opus of the exciting, innovating and defiantly ‘Hip-Hop’ Hyphy movement, Turf Talk and producer Rick Rock teamed up for record that, even after multiple listens, surprises and stuns while keeping the party moving. An acquired taste if there ever was one, “West Coast Vaccine” stands the pinnacle of a moment that ended before its time.

9) Non-Prophets – “Hope” (2003)
While the latter half of the decade featured rappers attempting to make music that sounded like eras they were born too late to be a part of, Sage Francis and producer Joe Beats beat them to the punchline by making a traditionalist boom-bap record that plays more like historical fiction than a love letter. By using subtlety where others used nostalgia, Sage and Joey made what was once old new again and, dare I say, fresh!

8 ) Cannibal Ox – “The Cold Vein” (2001)
Following the fallout of his group Company Flow, El-P channeled his cold outlook on life in New York City through the warmth of his ASR-10 for his label’s landmark album “The Cold Vein.” More than a beatmaker, El-P showed what makes him a truly great producer by using MCs Vast Aire and Vordul Mega as tools in his soundscape, accentuating their positives and hiding their negatives for an experience countless others have failed to duplicate since.

7) M.O.P. – “Warriorz” (2000)

While M.O.P. spent most of the decade in record label limbo, they remained on the Hip-Hop audience’s radar for nine years with what CBRap’s Andrew Noz refers to as “the last boom bap record.” A brutal swan song for Loud Records, “Warriorz” features Brownsville’s finest cracking skulls and snapping necks with such fervor that you can’t help but yell along with them.

6) TI – “King” (2006)
While you could make the argument that he was a better rapper on “Trap Muzik” or had better production on “I’m Serious,” the soundscape TI created on his 2006 masterpiece “King” is as complete a statement as albums get. The only rap album released that year that went platinum, TI represented the genre at its all-time lowpoint with not only a fantastic performance all his own, but defining a sound by bringing the best out of his in-house production team* and getting the likes of B.G. and Common to drop their best verses of the decade on their cameos.

5) Clipse – “Lord Willin” (2002)
In the post-9/11 post-shiny suit era, the Neptunes’ minimalist production on “Grindin” by the Clipse proved sometimes skeletons cast the largest shadows. While the album frequently faced the “they only rhyme about coke” critique, Pusha T and Malice didn’t use the subject as a crutch, rather a launching pad for how intertwined and trickled-down the hustlers’ profession affected their lives as well as a unifying theme that made it an incredibly entertaining and cohesive album.

4) Brother Ali – “Shadows on the Sun” (2003)
Some lives are so eventful, their memoirs read like textbooks. In the case of Brother Ali’s 2003 debut “Shadows on the Sun,” sometimes they’re just as enlightening. Ali’s brutal honestly and bombastic delivery makes his vulnerable juggernaut persona one of rap’s most compelling characters, and with producer Ant at the helm he was guided to start his career off with a masterpiece.

3) Sean Price – “Monkey Bars” (2005)
The buzz surrounding the man once known as “the other half of Heltah Skeltah” has been arguably the most surprising comeback of the past ten years. Reinventing himself as “the brokest rapper you know,” Sean Price let his charisma stream-of-consciously wander through his apathy over a hodgepodge of beats ranging from the Boot Camp aggression of “Boom Bye Yeah” to the 9th Wonder-laced “Heartburn” bringing new meaning to the term ‘hopeless romantic.’ Price’s ridiculously subtle and complex writing catches both the listeners who appreciate the face value thug tales, as well as rewards repeat listeners who catch the numerous double and triple entendres.

2) Masta Ace – “Disposable Arts” (2001)
The Juice Crew’s Masta Ace returned to the rap world with “Disposable Arts,” alerting an entire generation of backpackers that #1 ‘this is how it should be done’ and #2 ‘Masta Ace is lightyears ahead of you.’ The first honest documentation of a long-silent Golden Age rapper in the twilight of his career, Ace’s “Disposable Arts” was both life-affirming and effortlessly relevant. The number of rap concept albums that actually work is very low** but Ace pulls it off with this required listening for every rapper, listener, or person with even a passing interest in the genre.

1) Scarface – “The Fix” (2002)

Wow, where to begin. It’s daunting to even think about how much Scarface accomplishes over this 47:16 running time. From the best ‘back in the day’ song ever recorded (“On My Block”) to outshining two frequently argued ‘greatests of all time’ without breaking a sweat (Jay-Z on “Guess Who’s Back” and Nas on “In Between Us” who both still turn in two of their all-time best performances) all the way through “Heaven” a track that explains Face’s relationship with God foresaking heavy-handedness in favor of testifying with more genuine sincerity than the entire genre of “Christian rap” it is without peer. In a genre where most careers end after two albums***, Scarface’s seventh solo album stands as a shining example of what happens when an artist grows with their audience. Incredible.

So those are my favorite favorites.**** Pretty good decade for rap. Remember, these albums are all available at your nearest internet collection.

Drake (rapper)

UGK – “Underground Kingz”
Madvillain – “Madvillainy”
El-P – “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead”
semi.oFFICIAL – “The Anti-Album”
Big Moe – “City of Syrup”
Atmosphere – “Strictly Leakage”
Paul Wall & Chamillionaire – “Get Ya Mind Correct”
Murs & 9th Wonder – “Murray’s Revenge”
Three-6 Mafia – “Most Known Unknowns”
Z-Ro – “Let the Truth Be Told”)

*Grand Hustle: The World’s Most Talented Weed-Carriers.

**A whopping ‘one.’

***if that.

****To be honest, I’ve probably listened to The Outsidaz “The Nightlife EP” more than anything else this decade, but alas it’s an EP so it’s disqualified. Fear not my boy, it will be a treasured subject for another day.

Until next time let’s agree to agree!