Posted tagged ‘midwest’

Mac Lethal “Blood in the Water” – Mixtape Review

March 19, 2010

Mac Lethal - The Infamous Dave

From Kansas City, the “Meth-Lab City of Broken Dreams,” rapper Mac Lethal’s had quite the prolific career. First rising to national prominence by winning the 2002 Scribble Jam MC Battle, the past decade has seen him drop five tour-minded collections of his work (named Love Potions), a sampler for the then-largest Hip-Hop website, an official album on Rhymesayers (2007’s 11:11) and an alternate version of said album on his own Black Clover Records imprint. While such a refined regular output makes it easy to chart his progression as an artist, it’s surprising that in the past decade’s flood-the-market climate he’d only dropped one mixtape in 2008’s Crown Prime Rib. Fear not, with his next album around the corner, the time has come for him to drop his second mixtape Blood in the Water. It’s good. Scary good.

For all the boasting Mac’s been doing on messageboards and Twitter in recent months, he’s putting a lot on the line. While this release exists just to hold fans over until his next official album, at no point does Mac settle for “good enough.” He’s never been a better rapper and not only has he figured out exactly what he wants to do with his craft, he cuts out the fat and does whatever it takes to achieve his aims. Originally slated to be released last October one-song a day as he recorded it, Mac abandoned this plan halfway through completion, saving the unreleased half as incentive for this fine-tuned final project. Just as his other almost-annual releases captured him artistically at different points in his career, Blood in the Water more than anything pinpoints the Fall 2009 man behind the persona, David Maclery Sheldon, as a person. Content with entering his 30s, he vivisects the midwest nostalgia of “the good ol’ days” with an analysis of where friends, family and relationships went featuring an obsession with women adopting their significant others’ last names and watching Grind Time battles. This repetition reflects more of an honest vulnerability than gimmick and puts half the mixtape into almost concept album territory.

Production-wise Mac spends half the time following the Clipse blueprint of pick the best beats and then outshine the original artists over it. The other half is entirely self-produced, spare the hybrids such as “Exhibit: DEAD” where he remakes the Jay Electronica “Exhibit: C” beat and intercuts the original sample with clips of “Exhibit A,” Jay-Z’s “Dead Presidents” and Xzibit’s “Paparazzi.” The approach works as Mac basically shows off his rapping ability to such a degree that even the most tired and over played beats on the record (yes, “Run This Town” gets it) become fresh and galvanizing again.

As a rapper and a producer, Mac is at the absolute top of his game. However, this is where the album’s flaws surface. The entire project is crafted as a vehicle to flaunt where his abilities are now, so every time a voice that isn’t his appears, the record comes to a screening halt. It’s not that Ces Cru, Prof or St. Paul Slim turn in weak performances, their presence on the mixtape just manages to get in the way of someone who is totally in the zone and shooting three-pointers at every turn. Also bothersome is the inclusion of Soulcrate Music’s “Evil In It.” While I liked the song and considered it one of the album’s highlights in my review of their latest The Heartland Panic, here it just seems like a commercial break reminding us that the label mates of the guy we’re listening to have an album out. While a Mac appearance over the beat would have been great, as it stands it’s just sort of an intermission.

Overall, if Mac isn’t on your radar yet Blood in the Water should be all the sonar you need. It concludes with an openly unfinished song, as Mac is known to do, to give the listener an inclination of what he is capable of without even trying. The replay valuable is strong, and hearing the man kicking obscenely complex rhyme patterns over the likes of the “No Diggity” and Kris Kross’ “Jump” beat make this the most accessible piece of music he’s ever released. If his previous output was a warm-up, it’s no stretch to think Blood in the Water is the windup before Mac Lethal pitches the perfect game he’s had within him all nine innings.

We give the Blood in the Water Mixtape a Four Out of Five.

Blood in the Water is available FREE with any $25.00 purchase at Lethalville which you can find by clicking Here or anywhere else in this sentence.

So until next time…let’s agree to agree!

Soulcrate Music “The Heartland Panic” – Album Review

February 24, 2010

Anyone who owns more than ten rap albums should be able to tell you what first made them love, or like as in like like, the genre. Whether it’s the personalities, the storytelling, or something in the aesthetic like the pounding bass or consistent stream of lyrics, everyone knows what made them fall head-over-heels for beats and rhymes. What’s lesser explored are the secrets to maintaining that happy marriage. While some tend to lose interest based on what they listen to becoming stagnant, I’ve kept my passion through exploring the ever-changing soundscape that makes it such an ever-evolving music. West Coast rappers don’t sound like East Coast rappers, Atlanta producers don’t sound like Memphis producers and even that North Dakota sound (Me and You Crew) is discernibly different from the South Dakota sound coming from Black Clover signees Soulcrate Music and their album The Heartland Panic.

Putting together the Soulcrate discography is somewhat of a task. Their first release Obviously Bothered, a collection of their earliest recordings, was an “album” in the same way Gang Starr’s No More Mr. Nice Guy was an album*. Followed by two solo albums recorded under the group’s name, the trio put out 2008’s Cardboard Cutouts Volume 1 as an EP of all new material to perform and have available on tour. Catchy, consistent and enjoyable in a year that was anything but, the replay value has steadily built the group’s reputation as well as anticipation for their first full-length national release. For better or worse, The Heartland Panic‘s twelve original songs play like that record’s extended version. They know how they want to sound and are ready to spread it over a full length’s running time.

Seemingly signed primarily for their impeccable live show that sees them regularly pull in crowds of 700-800 throughout the Midwest, the greatest challenge the group faces here is translating that energy and intimacy into an album. While MCs Adef Eisenhower and Dirt Dee are the most animated and visible in a live setting, the real star here is producer DJ Absolute. More than just a beatmaker (and a good one at that) he understands the psychology of a rap album and lets the soundscape of The Heartland Panic play like a stroll through Sioux Falls. The wet autumn, the bitter winter, and the spring rain on a Starter jacket are all conjured over the course of the 45 minute running time. He knows when to let the beat alone carry the listener in (“Let it Shine”), when to let it propel the rappers’ momentum (“Evil in It,” “Made it Break”) and when to have the rappers carry the torch in order to let things breathe (“Keep Hope Dead”). Being the sole producer is an easy way to undercook or overload an album but Absolute makes the record feel diverse and complete.

As for the MCs, more than anything, they bring a melodic quality that really makes the album stand out amidst the monkey-see-monkey-bite incestuous scenesters that stagnate most offshoot Midwest music communities. Adef raps like a South Dakotan Lil Boosie with a distinct voice and perspective that makes him instantly recognizable and engaging. By contrast, DirtDee is a much more straightforward by-the-numbers rapper, which plays to Adef’s strengths like Vinnie Paz to whoever-is-guesting on a Jedi Mind Tricks song. But when they come together for hooks, their presence feels like a fourth member. They make the more epic-sounding beats like “Old vs.Dumb” become welcome hum-worthy affairs and the laid back numbers (“Clouds in My Head”) sound like anthems.

Their personalities shine on The Heartland Panic where their aim seems to be toward making listeners as excited for their album as they were for their favorite artists in high school. While there are more hits than misses, the record does suffer from moments of trying too hard to wear their heart on their hoodie. “Think About Me,” despite a great beat, becomes another “I’m bragging about not bragging” song. “Learn From It” and “Wake Up” both sound like lesser efforts toward territory already charted elsewhere on the album. When you have such highs on the record sustained by how much they standout, it makes these missteps all the worse and detracts from the whole experience**. Still, fans will undoubtably be pleased by this outing. It succeeds as a snapshot of where they are as a group and the combination of the melodies and production will be sure to make Sioux Falls, South Dakota a second home to plenty of new listeners.

We give The Heartland Panic a Three Out of Five.

Until next time, Let’s Agree to Agree!

*That’s an “album” as in an “album” but kinda-sorta not really an “album” but considered an “album” even though they don’t really recognize it as an “album” although the “album” is pretty “album-ish.”

**Call it “Chinese Arithmatic” syndrome.


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!