Time has a not-so-funny way of passing us by. As we, TSS Crew strive to give you our earnest and admittedly, unquestionable opinions on the albums of the day, sometimes even a couple projects slip through our impenetrable reviewing hands. Take a SXSW here and a couple trips to New York there, the missed calls begin to pile up. So as we enter the quarter of our Hip-Hop fiscal year, here’s our chance to blow secondhand smoke on some of 2010’s offerings.
As always, there’s the good, the bad and the in-between.
DJ Green Lantern & Styles P. – The Green Ghost Project: As one third of the LOX/D-Block, Styles P. has long been regarded as a lyrical emcee, capable of keeping up with even the most elite of his peers. However, like his LOX brethren, his shortcomings of filling an album with quality material from top to bottom have been well documented. In The Green Ghost Project, Styles teams up with DJ Green Lantern, and the album starts off scorching. “Double Trouble,” “Callin Me,” and “Send a Kite,” are all lyrical burners, complemented nicely with Green Lantern on the boards. However, by the time the album reaches its later tracks, the repetitive content and production both begin to feel redundant and stale. Also, many of the features disappoint, as Jadakiss fails to match Styles’ intensity on “Invasion” and Raekwon only delivers a sub-par hook, sans a verse on “Time Will Tell.” Overall, the Ghost holds his own lyrically, but the lack of creativity in the features and production wear thin on the listener, preventing The Green Ghost Project from truly being one of the elite compounds of the year.—Raj
E-40 – Revenue Retrievin (Day & Night Shifts): Every hustler worth their weight in slick talk knows that the grind consists of a dusk and dawn. E-40 practically invented the Bay Area’s street manual and with that wisdom (and trademarked slanguage), he’s doubling down on black with his Revenue Retreivin’: Day & Night Shifts, respectively. 40 Watta’s work schedules are about as distinctive as tomato/tomahto but the bright side is two full length albums stocked with a veteran’s viewpoint equals nothing but pure entertainment. From the cookin’ in the kitchen with Gucci Mane (“Whip it Up”) to soaking up the game (“Wet”), both timeclocks punch in as upbeat, bouncy splashes of art. Albeit, coming in as bloated manifestos, expectantly. Scored by familiar wonders, Rick Rock, Jazze Pha and offspring Droop-E, 40 succeeds in schooling those willing to put work in to learn to scrap together a few nickels. You can’t stop the boss.—TC
Juvenile – Beast Mode: Cleaning up both his sound and diction in an effort to appeal to today’s fans, Juvenile throws the baby out with the bathwater and in the process becomes just another rapper with his ninth album, Beast Mode. He traded his signature soulful bounce in for an array of generic synths. Never one to be confused as a master lyricist, verbal duds like “You got a nice rack/can I get a pool shot…” don’t sound as good when not masked by his southern drawl. “Drop That Azz” is nothing more than a sanitized recreation of “Back That Azz Up” and several other songs, (“Pussy Kat”/Yin Yang Twins, “I’m Da Man/Roscoe Dash,”Lights, Camera, Action”/Maino) rely heavily on templates laid by other artists. For a man who’s churned out more than his fair share of club bangers and street anthems, Juvenile sounds pretty tame despite his claims of going into Beast Mode.—MZ
Davinci – The Day The Turf Still: Too often, rappers like to trace the gray area of their upbringings and environment but rarely can they find the time to add color to the synopsis. DaVinci hails from the Fillmore District but he’s no uppity statesman. His inaugural offering The Day The Turf Stood Still serves as a former legislation on highlighting the social ills of one of America’s most celebrated cities. Take the first single “What You Finna Do?” with deploration of “urban renewal” and “gentrification” for example. Over subtle percussion, he immediately dignifies himself from the general city slicker. Further tales from the hood like “Aristocrat,” “Concrete Jungle Juice” and “Do What It Do” strengthen his cause but the consistent moody production eventually begins to toil on his husky baritone towards the LP’s tail end. With a little musical expansion, Hip-Hop will soon marvel at the poise of an artist already standing on solid ground.—TC
Nappy Roots – Pursuit Of Nappyness: There’s no longer a need for Ambien as there’s always Nappy Roots’ Pursuit Of Nappyness. The once animated Kentucky collective now seems fixated on sending listeners running to the couch for a deep slumber, clutching their Linus blankets. It’s not to say that their fanbase won’t appreciate the album, but the bland, monotonous approach of the emcees on tracks like the dulling “Do It Big” and generic R.I.P. anthem “Live & Die” won’t satisfy anyone else. The production doesn’t fare much better but there are a few standouts (“Winner Take All” and “P.O.N.”) that could possibly find a better home on other artist’s albums. Then again, their core audience may receive this album and the dedication track “All 4 You” with open arms but general heads might want to pursue seeking their country grammar lessons elsewhere.—Gotty™
Slum Village – Villa Manifesto: If there were ever a group that was destined for copious amounts of success, yet derailed by what could simply be considered “bad luck,” Slum Village would be it. And it’s not like words such as “bad luck” and “unlucky” are being used loosely—Slum Village had the pieces throughout their 14-year career to be both critically and commercially renowned. The Detroit underground über underground group included not only one of the most laudable producers/MCs of a generation, J Dilla, but two fully competent and energetic lyricists in Baatin and eLZhi. So it comes as a surprise that Villa Manifesto came to be several years after both Dilla and Baatin passed away. But not as some bloated “remember us?” album. ELZhi brings together a colorful cast that begs your attention one last time. There’s enough Dilla production to satiate the rabid beat freak—“Lock It Down” has his signature stomp and “We’ll Show You” is a testament to his experimental, avant-garde sounds. And the Madlib-crafted “Earl Flinn” has a sparse, kazoo-tinted rhythm that could easily be confused for something the late Dilla would have compiled. However, the Colin Munroe-featuring “Faster” is too glitzy and feels out of place, while the handclap jam session at the end of the 7:25 barnburner, “Don’t Fight the Feeling,” is superfluous overkill. Although this is a far cry from their group’s Fantastic volumes, the album is a satisfactory salutatory farewell, putting a definitive and successful period at the Slum Village legacy.—Ryan J.
DJ Khaled – Victory: DJ Khaled has a reputation for being extremely annoying on his records and perhaps he’s in agreeance with this notion, as he only appears heavily on the intro for his fourth album Victory, and takes a backseat the rest of the ride. This, in fact, works in the best interest of the everybody involved (usual suspects like Young Jeezy, The Runners, Rick Ross, etc.) as the LP features its fair share of worthy cuts. From hood staples (“All I Do Is Win,” “Put Your Hands Up”) to pure Hip-Hop regalia (“Rep My City” and the stellar, Nas-featured title track), Victory still doesn’t earn a total championship as generic materialism dominates the bulk of the project. Pompous fluff aside, with Khaled pardoning the interruption, Miami’s biggest mouth can coolly claim a dubya this time.—TC
Inspectah Deck – Manifesto: The most underrated member of the Wu-Tang Clan is back with none of the fanfare that accompanied some of his higher profile cohorts’ return to the LP game. Nonetheless, Manifesto is another brick in the 2000s Wu Wall of marginal quality. Grimey records like the ominous “Neverending Story” that show that Deck is still master of his dojo. Still, as has always been the case, Deck functions best as part of a team and the best tracks on Manifesto are the collaborations with Raekwon, Termanalogy, Planet Asia and other like sub-genred MCs. What limits Manifesto from reaching the heights of say a Cuban Linx 2 is the general staleness of the Wu sound. Sometimes, they age like fine wine, but when the tracks fail, they fail epically. Still for those who still rep the W unyieldingly, this should more than suffice.—Patrick M.
Too $hort – Still Blowin’: The Brett Favre of Hip-Hop returns with his 18th project Still Blowin’. Clocking in at twelve tracks, Too $hort stays the course with freaky tales and re-enforcing the lessons of macking he’s been spewing since 1985’s Don’t Stop Rappin’. The Bay Area legend sounds most comfortable over melodic and laid back compositions such as the player’s anthem “Fed Up” and “All For Love” which details a pimp’s more sensitive side. Mainly due to the forced combination of $hort’s flow and awkward production on tracks such as “Porno Bitch,” “Checking My Hoes” and “Lil’ Shorty,” speed bumps are a frequent occurrence that disrupt even the most basic of player’s balls. Even though they don’t do much to deter from the album’s main mission, Too $hort proves that even O.G.’s have to hang their pimp hats up at some point.—J. Tinsley
Marco Polo – The Stupendous Adventures Of Marco Polo: It’s hard to imagine that a collection of boom-bap infused Hip-Hop would considered anything other than the norm, but that’s not the case in today’s modern landscape. For his “stupendous adventure,” Marco Polo samples everything from old television themes to the Beach Boys as he crafts backdrops for lyricists to wreck havoc on. Whether creating analog magic with frequent collaborators (“Bomb Shit”/Ruste Juxx, “Combat Drills”/Torae), unfamiliar names (“So Basic”/Surreal) or remixing others work (“Who I Be”/Diamond District) the end result is always dope rhymes over dope beats. Much like materialism is the crutch of the mainstream however, constant vows of keeping it real & bring back “real” Hip-Hop can run its course.—MZ
Guilty Simpson – O.J. Simpson: Building on 2008’s Ode to the Ghetto, the latest full-length from Detroit’s Guilty Simpson continues to establish himself as a prodigious underground talent. The choice to collaborate with fellow alt-hero Madlib ensures a unique sound. Top tracks like “New Heights” and the Eastern-influenced “Cali Hills” mix spontaneous beats and focused rhymes at just the right amounts to make a few certified bangers. But the eccentricities of Madlib’s methods of album construction create too much filler, disrupting the momentum needed to push O.J. Simpson into the killer we all know it could be.—Patrick M.
DJ Kay Slay – More Than Just A DJ: With the proliferation of both sanctioned and unsanctioned leaks via the Internet, it’s gotten to the point where it’s difficult to tell one track from the next, as there’s no filter on the media. Doing his best to stay one step of the game, DJ Kayslay throws a compilation album in the mix to offset the turntables. Getting focused verses from virtually all parties involved, Kay strings together a slew of solid tracks. Although “Blockstar” & “Thug Luv” received a bulk of the promo; Cam’ron & Vado’s “Monster Muzik”, “Layed Out” (Bun-B, Twista, Papoose, Dorrough, Young Chris & Jay Rock) & “God Forgive Me” (Joell Ortiz, Jae Millz & Saigon) provide a little of something for everyone. At 20 tracks in length, a few Ray J hooks, artists features and songs could have been trimmed to make the overall project stronger. Still, Kay Slay shows us how he’s able to stay employed in radio by keeping his ear to the pavement.—MZ
Roc Marciano – Marcberg: Former Flipmode Squad solider Roc Marciano unexpectedly revives a rap career with his solo debut Marcberg. Harking back to the days when the subterranean New York sound ruled the circuit, Marcberg’s minimalist sonance (which comes courtesy of Roc in its entirety) is actually its biggest draw. Tracks like “Raw Deal” and “Panic” cater to those looking for traditional MC work without all the extra foilage of artists today. Albeit lacking a standout record and major artistic diversity, Roc Marciano’s hardened testimonies will always be welcomed in the streets where the purists roam.—TC
Vinnie Paz – Season of the Assassin: After countless years of harvesting in the underground as a member of Jedi Mind Tricks and Army of the Pharoahs, Vinnie Paz is a hitman-for-hire on his debut solo LP, Season of the Assassin. Immediately living out the mission’s name, Paz embarks his throaty growls on a killing spree on tracks like the sinister “Pistolvania” with brutal lyricism (“I’m here to fuck the game up like Pacman Jones”) as well as rocking alongside noteworthy menaces like Clipse and Freeway and beats by Madlib, Lil’ Fame and Da Beatminerz. At 21 tracks deep, Vinnie’s exasperated tirades may be a bit much, even for the longtime JMT fans, but Season Of The Assassin hits its target as an open invitation to opposing rappers, itching for an execution.—TC
Rasco – Global Threat: The de facto opener of Global Threat, titled aptly “Global Threat,” is a near perfect piece of Hip-Hop harmony. The blended strings meld into the right balance of melody and eerie, recalling retro production from underground East and West. Rasco shows who’s in control of the proceedings, ripping off commanding rhymes in a forceful, yet relaxed tone. If the rest of Global Threat doesn’t match the track’s high standards, it mostly keeps the quality in the same realm. Quality guests like Royce Da 5’9″ as well as a reunification with Planet Asia provide additional rhyme talent that matches Rasco’s veteran savvy. He’s consistent throughout, shifting gears from posse tracks such as the peppy “That’s That Shit,” to the relationship ballad “Round and Round,” without as much as a hiccup. While consistency lays the foundation, there’s not enough oomph in Global Threat to push it amongst the year’s best releases. The production lags occasionally as dedication to the mid-90s sound leaves a fine margin for error—tracks such as “Step Game Up,” whose moving parts don’t meld together sound very dated. And if Rasco’s rhyming style and songcraft have maintained, they haven’t evolved. Still Global Threat should be a mandatory grab for those fanatics crooning for some quote, unquote real Hip-Hop.—Patrick M.