March 31, 2021

Gang Starr "Moment of Truth" (March 31, 1998)

Only a few rap groups have managed career-long consistency, among them A Tribe Called Quest (whose new album will come out in June) and Gang Starr. "Moment of Truth" (Noo Trybe/Virgin) is the latter's fifth album, its first in four years. The wait's been worth it, as DJ Premier once again brings his unmatched production skills to bear on rapper Guru's authoritative missives. At the start of the new album, Guru boasts, "We update our formulas. . . . The rhythm style is elevated, the style of beats are elevated. . . . There's always a message included." Indeed, messages stressing knowledge and self-determination are sprinkled throughout: "Take responsibility . . . make your moves right and exact . . . if we don't build, we'll be destroyed . . . each one teach one . . . cultivate, multiply, motivate/ Or else we'll die." In the title track, Guru admits to a looming depression fueled by both social history and personal weakness: "I'm ready to lose my mind/ But instead I use my mind," he says, further rejecting drugs and alcohol because "all that's going to do really is accelerate/ Those anxieties that I wish I could alleviate." Later, in "What I'm Here For," he rides a mesmerizing piano loop and declares, "While some choose greed/ I chose to plant seeds for your mental spirit and physical temple/ Bob your head to it/ There's the water, you've been led to it." "Royalty" teams Gang Starr with Jodeci's K-Ci and JoJo on an anthem that's both gently critical and unconditionally affirming. There are also several collaborations with other rappers, the most interesting being the orientally flavored, mystical-leaning "Above the Clouds" with Wu-Tang's Inspectah Deck, and "Betrayal," a languid "Mean Streets" parable about money, greed and lust that effectively teams Guru with former Geto Boy Scarface. (The WP article continues below, click play and keep reading...)

While there are a few questionable digressions -- "She Knowz What She Wantz" is lame and slightly misogynistic -- the most vituperative tracks are reserved for "wack" rappers and pretenders, from the back-on-the-block surge of "You Know My Steez" and Big Apple-centric "New York Strait Talk" to "The Rep Grows Bigga," which mixes verbal beat-downs on ghetto celebrity lifestyle with frustration over the distance between the group's commercial success and its artistic impact. Guru's raps seem particularly invigorated this time around -- the monotone delivery sharp, the flow smooth, the lyrics straightforward and uncompromising -- but it's still Premier's production that lifts "Moment of Truth" above the competition. Premier favors clean, distinct beats that avoid gimmicks and commercialism. With few exceptions, they draw the listener into the messages with clever, mesmerizing sonic textures that bear repeated listening. - The Washington Post (4/15/1998).

March 30, 2021

Onyx "Bacdafucup" (March 30, 1993)

Yikes! It's the attack of the bald heads! Get ready for Onyx, the new solid piece of musical phatness that I had to shoot the bootlegger for. I'm open and gone on these kids and I'm seriously killin' the batteries in my Walkman. "Bacdafucup! Bacdafucup," the new NYC rudeboy rush hour theme, is just the beginning of this mad excursion through the United States Ghetto. This ain't "gangsta," this is real. Mr. Sticky Fingers has the ill voice you will never forget as he puts a Tech-9 in your mouth and robs you of your props. His partner in crime, Fredro Starr, has his back, as the rest of bald-headed massive (Big DS and Sonny Ceasar) bring it to the table hard. Sawed-off pump jams, like the current underground single "Throw Ya Guns" or rowdy LP cut "Here and Now," will make you want to reach for the ski-mask and step, but before you troop to the bullpen, be advised that this album is not just rude. It is an extremely dope vision of ugliness that is not for the sensitive. When they're not pledging allegiance to the "U.S.G.," they're offending everybody but the bad boys with hardcore XXX-rated jams like "Black Vagina Finda" and "Suckin' The Next N!gga's D!ck." While the topics they kick are real enough, after awhile the b!tch-n!gga-b!tch lyrics and the frenzied screaming do become monotonous. Nevertheless, the lyrical chemistry between Sticky Fingers and Fredro Starr combined with the phat production work of Chyskills (Large Professor's old school homey) and Kool T blows into orbit and leaves you open for more." - The Source (March, 1993). Revisit the LP below...

Also from The Source (June, 1993) are these images...

March 29, 2021

Wrecking Crew "Wu-Tang Pulp" (2012)

Philadelphia conglomerate The Wrecking Crew have just release their first full-length project, Wu-Tang Pulp. Has-Lo, Zilla Rocca and Curly Castro have reworked cuts from the iconic ’90s group’s catalog and, for some tracks, done straight cover songs. Zilla Rocca had the following to say of the project: “What started as a simple idea in 2009 has formed into a completely flushed out re-imagining of the most iconic collective in Hip Hop history. Wu-Tang Pulp is an album shaped from the hearts and minds of three die-hard killa bee fanatics who spared no details in paying the ultimate homage to their heroes. Tackling records from RZA, Ghostface, Method Man, etc. is no easy task when you grew up with 36 Chambers in your Walkman, drawing the “W” on your high school composition books, and rocking Tommy Hilfiger tees in the summer because Raekwon said so.” - via Respect Mag. Check out 2012's Wu-Tang Pulp as an exclusive Bandcamp release streaming below...

March 28, 2021

Big L "Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous" (3/28/95)

There is a small number of MCs who can keep you hanging on every syllable; Big L may soon be among them. L's lyrical wit, clarity and lethal one-liners have more lasting value than gold ingots on his debut Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous. He gives his mentor Lord Finesse the first shout-out on the album's opening cut, "Put It On," before delivering a tireless parade of hardcore punch lines that rock like a left hook to the grill. As an MC, Big L clearly casts himself in the rhyme-savvy old-school; the callous, often brutal tone of his first-person raps is cleverly offset by imaginative lyrical hooks ("I got a crime record longer than Manute Bol") on nearly every cut, transforming outrageous rhetoric into artistic gems. While he can drop your jaw like a Paul Mooney outburst on "No Endz, No Skinz," Big L will also astound you with his fluid hardcore flow on "MVP," "Danger Zone" and "I Don't Understand It," along with the posse-cut "8 Iz Enuff." - CMJ New Music Monthly, April 1995. Big L's debut album is certainly a release we need to continue to celebrate along with the life of one of our slain legends. Hopefully you cop'd the exclusive 25th anniversary vinyl last year, the images of it are above and below. Revisit Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous below and R.I.P., Big L!

Original contact sheet from the book Contact High...

March 27, 2021

UFO Fev & Frank The Butcher "The Thrill" (EP Stream)

UFO Fev follows up his phenomenal release with Big Ghost, The Ghost of Albizu, with this latest 6-track EP produced by Frank The Butcher entitled The Thrill. This is some gritty New York City hip-hop here boasting "intricate story telling and production led by a one man orchestra," says their album-blurb. Born in East Harlem, growing up in Thomas Jefferson Houses, UFO Fev was inspired by his favorite rappers like Big Pun, Jay-Z and Beanie Siegel. He's been rather prolific in recent years, so hit the archives for other dope releases and props to Frank The Butcher, who has a handful of dope mixtapes in the archives, as well. Listen to Fev and Frank The Butcher's The Thrill EP below...

March 26, 2021

Digital Underground "Sex Packets" (March, 1990)

"We were serious act at first, trying to be this techno, pro-struggle-oriented civil-rights movement type of thing," says Digital Underground's main man Shock G from a hotel room in Oakland. Of course, for those who remember the first time they heard D.U., serious wasn't a word you would use to describe them. The group, consisting of rapper and producer Shock, rapper Money-B, DJ Fuse, singer Schmoovy Schmoov and drummer/producer Chopmaster J, was constantly morphing, and that was what always kept their fans guessing, laughing and shaking their asses. Party fun via musical lessons studiously gleaned from George Clinton's P-Funk mothership was most definitely what Digital Underground was known for, with rolling, juiced-up hit singles (and groundbreakingly popular MTV videos) like "Doowutchalike" and "The Humpty Dance." Ironically, Digital was very serious about the album's original main concept: Sex Packets. An idea developed by Shock's roommate Earl Cook (a.k.a. group vocalist Schmoovy Schmoov), Sex Packets were pills that would control the mental images that gave men and women wet dreams. Shock laughs: "Schmoov actually had, in his briefcase, the plans to create and get study and research going for these things. He was trying to get a grant from the government to develop them." Shock admits "we made up a lot of shit surrounding the album," including his aliases Humpty Hump, The Piano Man and MC Blowfish. "We were deliberately throwing out all the hip-hop rules, trying to break them," Shock remembers. "I always wanted Digital Underground to be this big supergroup, but we didn't have all the true characters yet. If I had a vision of a kind of guy we needed, I'd just be that guy." They brought it all in and let it all hang out. "We were like Fuck it, we're gonna be on some Funkadelic shit, and do all kinds of different songs and wear all kinds of different hats," he says. "All of us tugging in different directions made it a really rich gumbo album." Surely a great time in hip-hop, revisit the LP below...

Shock G humps his way through their funky classics below...

March 25, 2021

The Notorious B.I.G. "Life After Death" (March 25, 1997)

Holding back the tears, you can't help but think back to three 27 years ago when the poetic masterblaster known as the Notorious B.I.G. dropped his groundbreaking debut, Ready To Die, on the unsuspecting ears of the hip-hop nation. Although we had already boogied to the Brooklyn bounce of "Party and Bullshit" and shared his fantasies of seducing Janet Jackson on the mixtape favorite "Dreams," no one could have predicted how this record would forever change the landscape of current day hip-hop culture. Introducing the character of the Versace-don gulping Cristal from crystal flute glasses, Biggie came across as an aged-hustler who was tired of playing the rock-slanging game, but never became bored of retelling those crack in da dayz stories. With his husky from far too many blunts voice, Big documented the illmatic mean streets of his Bedford Stuyvesant stomping grounds. His tales of gunshots after midnight, snatching "the baby rings and the number-one-mom pendants" off of unsuspecting victims, and chilling stories of rivals plotting on his life became a part of his ever-expanding persona. But, within all of this, Biggie didn't seem to be looking to glamorize the pain of urban madness that surrounded him. Under the guidance of Bad Boy's flamboyant CEO Sean "Puffy" Combs, the Notorious one wasn't afraid to reveal his desire for the finer things in life. Unlike most rappers, Big was able to go pop with Billboard smashes like "Big Poppa" and "One More Chance," and still maintain street credibility and respect from fellow MC's because of lyrical masterworks like "Unbelievable" and the nerve-ending narrative "Warning." Cont'd...

...Now in 1997, six months after the murder of Tupac Shakur, I can still feel the chill I got when I sat down to listen to Biggie's second opus, Life After Death...Till Death Do Us Part. Moments after putting the advance tape into my stereo, my girlfriend opened the door and said, "Biggie was killed in Cali." And as my eyes swelled, I silently listened to an album that will undoubtedly become a classic to any true hip-hop fan. Chillingly opening with a dramatic scene of Biggie laying dead in a hospital room as sirens blare in the distance and sad piano chords drift like a ghost over his body, a sorrowful-voiced Puffy says, "We were supposed to rule the world, baby. Shit can't be over...shit can't be over." And as a flat-lining sound is heard, comes the weird soundscape of "Somebody's Gotta Die," a track that resembles a scene from an unmade blaxploitation film about Crooklyn gangsters trading shots in the projects. However, despite these suspenseful moments, this album makes a clear distinction from its predecessor. Unlike the cult of violence that seemed almost naturalistic on Ready to Die, the realm of gangster aesthetics on Life After Death seems more cinematic fantasy than real-life adventures in the 'hood. On the DJ Premier-produced "Kick In The Door," which loops Screaming Jay Hawkins, Biggie is busting down doors and waving his .44 like some kind of urban vigilante. Meanwhile, on "What's Beef?," which uses jungle influences in its grooves, Biggie moans, "Beef is when you need two gats to go to sleep/Beef is when your moms ain't safe up on the streets," like he wanted to rise above his own personal chaos. (Who wouldn't?) Cont'd below...

Exploring his desires to reach superstar status, Big's employment of fellow big-name artists leads to stunning results. R. Kelly adds his dirty vocal touches on "F#ckin' You Tonight," Puff and Big exchange playa-isms with Too Short on "The World Is Filled," and the mayor of St. James holds his own with Cleveland, Ohio's Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on "Notorious Thugs." That ambitious track alone reveals Smalls' diversity as an MC and his desire to be viewed as the greatest in his field. Still, despite inspired raw hip-hop diatribes like the RZA-constructed "Long Kiss Goodnight," and Primo's powerful "Ten Crack Commandments," Life After Death's finest moments are the instantly catchy, future-radio-favorites. While the slick-as-a-can-of-oil first single "Hypnotize" and the Rene and Angela-inspired "I Love The Dough" (featuring Jay-Z) are both banging, it's the remake of Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out (More Money)," featuring the sleepy-voiced Mase and the boss man Puff Daddy, that swings the hardest with pure Bad Boy flavor. Although Biggie probably never intended the hit-fueled Life After Death to be his swan song as an artist, one can't help but view songs like the care-free "Goin Back To Cali," a parody of the Death Row sound, and the haunting closing track, "You're Nobody ('Til Somebody Kills You)," as yet another definition of tragic irony. Unfortunately, like Tupac before him, Big's potent verses of a violent death became a self-prophecy indeed. - The Source, May 1997 (5 Mics). Revisit this classic 2LP today, and Rest in Peace to The Notorious B.I.G!

March 25, 2021

Moderator "Midnight Madness" (Instrumental Album)

Moderator, the famed Athens-based producer, has assembled 14 tracks that run the gamut, each one evoking the devilish unpredictability of cult cinema and the dopeness of a phat break. Moderator is known for his extensive musical knowledge, with his tastes running from hip-hop to rockabilly, dub to Memphis soul, and all points in-between. On Midnight Madness, these genres intersect in dreamlike scenes from imaginary movies. There’s “Unspoken,” with its Latin-psychedelics, wah-wah guitar riffs, and rousing trumpet, resembling an alternate universe Morricone. Camp spookiness also appears on tunes like “Haunted Lover,” which combines a big breakbeat and vampy vocals for a creature showdown in black and white. The delightfully strange rears its head on cuts like “Once Upon a Time” and “Crystal Gaze,” both summoning playful witchcraft vibes straight out of a vintage Italian Giallo film. The downtempo flavor is heavy, casting spells on the fussiest of beat-headz. Moderator also whips out some twisted tribal lounge, as “Tamboo” delivers a rhythmic procession of fashionable zombies to the darkly lit dance floor. Just as midnight movies bring endless surprises, the tracks on Midnight Madness won’t stop revealing after multiple listens. Moderator’s intricate fusions unfold in exotic layers and there are sinister secrets to discover. Listen in below...

March 24, 2021

Cappadonna "The Pillage" (March 24, 1998)

In the summer of 1995, a sweltering heat sets New York City ablaze. Sunbeams bounce off boom boxes blasting the latest masterpiece from the Wu-Tang Clan, Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx album. As glistening beads of sweat cascade down the contours of rap-loving girls, Cappadonna makes his grand entrance completely without warning. Backed by the surreal strains of the RZA-produced hit "Ice Cream" -- a nasty ode to all the girls the Wu has loved before -- the sharp-tongued latest addition to hip-hop's greatest group of the '90s serenades fine ladies everywhere with his dirty diatribes and witty hearsay. "You're sexy, persuasive ta-tas and thighs/Catch my eyes like pies/I want your bodily surprise," whines the newcomer, establishing himself as yet another Clan Killer Bee to look out for. But just who is Cappadonna? And how did he deal with the pressure of joining hip-hop's elite squad at the height of their popularity? "You have to know yourself before you go tryin' to weigh and judge other things," offers the introspective and enigmatic rhymer three years later, on the eve of releasing his Epic/Razor Sharp solo album, The Pillage. "I'm not in competition with nobody. I just came to go ahead and teach and spread psalms about the world."

Shrouded in mystery, Cappachino the Great goes on to lend his mystique to a second shivery sureshot from Rae's classic set. "Ice Water" solidifies Cappa's presence amongst underground heads as he spits the memorable and ominous opening line: "The first branch/The third leaf/Whoever want it got beef..." That same year, "Winter Warz" (from the Don't Be A Menace To South Central soundtrack) forever singes Cappadonna's name and abstract style in the brains of rap aficionados as he kicks his infamous long verse that leads to his sharing third billing (and album cover space) on Ghostface Killah's brilliant 1996 Ironman LP. Never letting up, Cappa's bizarre bantering (an influence on Rae and Ghost's highly praised unique lyrical techniques) goes one step beyond as he embellishes his abstract steelo on the Clan's 1997 sophomore double album, Wu-Tang Forever. The stage is thus set for the Brooklyn-born/Staten Island-reared former security guard and present-day vocal dart thrower. Having appeared on over a dozen Wu-Tang joints, 1998 is the year for Cappadonna to shine. Representing the East Barracks projects in Park Hill, the life-long friend of the Wu breaks through with The Pillage, the sixth dolo strike from the Clan. - Press Kit, 1998. Revisit The Pillage LP today!

March 23, 2021

MF Doom & Madlib "Madvillainy" (March 23, 2004)

Madvillainy was an underground smash (by MF Doom and Madlib as Madvillain): twelve of its twenty-two tracks were shorter than two minutes and none of the songs had traditional hooks or choruses, but it was so singularly unique and memorable both lyrically and production-wise that it became one of the most critically lauded hip-hop records of the decade, indie or mainstream. It sold over 150,000 copies, modest by mainstream music's platinum-or-bust standards, but successful enough to keep Stones Throw not just solvent but thriving. And if the old saying about the Velvet Underground was true for the rock world--that they only sold a fraction of the records that the popular bands did, but everyone who bought a copy started a band of their own--the echoes of Madvillainy would be heard everywhere by the end of the 2000s. Chain-toking stream-of-consciousness MCs and bedroom beatmakers fiddling with a Dr. Sample put out underground sensations of their own, from electronic/future-jazz musician Flying Lotus to the LA rap collective Odd Future. Even Thom Yorke of Radiohead singled out Madvillainy track "Raid" as a personal favorite on an iTunes Celebrity Playlist he put together in early 2007. - Bring That Beat Back, 2020. I agree with Nate Patrin, it was an underground smash! One of a handful of albums that consistently sold at Fat Beats, and it certainly flew off the shelves whenever we were bumpin' it through the speakers. Revisit this classic LP below and of course, Rest In Peace, MF Doom. Hit the archives for a lot more.

MF Doom and Madlib, Madvillainy... via Stones Throw Records.

March 22, 2021

Awon & Phoniks "Nothing Less" (Album Stream)

Nothing Less is the latest studio album from hip hop group Awon & Phoniks. It is their first full-length release since starring in the 2020 Netflix documentary "Underdogs" centered around their label Don't Sleep Records and first tour overseas. The album is laced with Phoniks signature jazz-infused, boom bap production style and Awon's raw, honest lyricism. Produced on vintage samplers like the gritty Emu SP-1200 and Akai MPC 2000xl, the music evokes memories of classic east coast "Golden Era" hip hop. The songs were predominantly written under quarantine and center around political and social commentary of these tumultuous last few years. The album features an excellent supporting cast that includes Masta Ace, Blu, Dephlow, Anti-Lilly, Tiff The Gift, Ill Conscious, Kid Abstrakt, DJ Ill Digitz, DJ Eveready, and Av Hamilton. Awon and Phoniks are two of my favorite artists, and Don't Sleep Records is certainly one of the best independent labels creating music today. Listen to Nothing Less below and hit up the archives for a lot more on Don't Sleep Records...

March 21, 2021

Happy Born Day, DJ Premier! (Playlist/Interview)

I've never been short on praise for the legendary DJ Premier, so as we celebrate his Born Day today (which should be a holiday!), I thought I'd dig back in the archives to an interview we did together over a decade and a half ago. June 2009, in the back office at 406 6th Avenue, better known as Fat Beats NY, we had a candid conversation about record store day, then-new projects, the tattoo on his arm and more. He shared, "We are all here to combine powers and support each other, because there is still a big network of us that still do what we do... from the heart. Ya know, from how we were raised in the early 80s of hip-hop - when there were 12-inches, before it was albums. But, we still pride ourselves on making good bodies of work, too. Ya know, a lot of people don't know how to make good albums... they really need to stick to 12-inches or just do a couple singles and learn how to make an album. We know how to make albums, and that's why I still exist; why I still do a radio show that's dedicated to breaking records. We know how to judge talent! It's really like with chefs, when we tell you something is gonna taste good; when you take a bite out of it, it does taste good! We are the tastemakers of this industry and all these people here are here for the same cause..." Indeed, that continues today as DJ Premier remains at the forefront with his show on Sirius, Live From Headqcourterz, and more importantly, Preemo ALWAYS leads by example!

When I asked him about the tattoo on his arm, he shared, "Oh word, the tattoo says "Reputation Is The Cornerstone Of Power." I was on a plane reading "The 48 Laws Of Power," and I just liked that line when I was reading it. I mean, there were some things that were inconsistent in the book, but for this particular line, I feel that really describes me and how I came up to make my name in NYC as a producer-DJ and hip-hop artist, and I did it! All I wanted was EPMD, Rakim, KRS-ONE, Marley Marl and people like that to say "Yo, you're dope, I love your shit!" and they did that, so I feel like I made it. It wasn't just the money, it was them appreciating me and recognizing what I do, and also shout to Guru for recognizing that I was dope, too, and ya know, we here and still gettin' it in..." Rest In Peace, Guru! Gang Starr still remains my favorite group of all-time! Art below by Alphonze.

I also asked Preemo about consistency and producers having their own signature sound... to which, he shared, "That's important because everyone has something that you can be remembered by and for me, its my scratching ability and the funk that I put into my beats. Ya know what I'm saying, its like my worst beats are better than most cats and thats not even a bragging thing. Rest In Peace to Jaco Pastorius, who used to be the bass player for Weather Report, he said, "It's not bragging, if you can back it up," and well, I can back it up..." and with that, we left our conversation as to be continued... But, there's one more piece of advice that he's shared elsewhere that's equally relevant. Preemo said, "A rule that I've learned is never bite. I know it's not looked at the same way to the newer generation, but that was such a major, unwritten rule that we knew. Don't bite because you will get stepped to. I've stepped to people for biting, and I've stepped to people for even just mentioning my name... Learn how to perform live. It's the ultimate. After you hear an album, it makes you want to see them live... So always take pride and care about your live performance; that's major for me." Please dig in the archives for countless posts about DJ Premier and Gang Starr, and be sure to wish him a Happy Born Day! The DJ Premier Nike Air Force 1s are below, never to be worn...

March 21, 2021

Raekwon vs. Ghostface Killah (Verzuz Playlist, 3/20/21)

March 20, 2021: Verzuz returned with their latest "battle", the legendary Wu-Tang swordsmen, Raekwon vs. Ghostface Killah! I tuned in at the beginning, but cycled in and out... I had to go back to watch how the full battle unfolded this morning. What I took from this Verzuz was the epic amount of love and respect that these two brothers have for one another. That was made crystal clear! The classic stories and exchanges between records also reminded us that these two are still masters of their own languages, lol. To breakdown each individual round would annoy me and bore you, but the full playlist is available below compliments of Shake of 2DopeBoyz. Now... when I first considered their respective catalogs, I thought Ghostface was a shoe-in to win this thing. Even at times during the battle, I felt like Ghost was up by a lot, yet when I go track for track, it's almost dead even... to me! I would have included several different songs, which is to be expected, but I understand they had to move differently because they are on many of the same records, and ultimately they want to showcase their catalogs, too. As was the case a year ago with DJ Premier vs. RZA, this was a lot more than the music, so the culture can rejoice... Wu-Tang is Forever! Dig in...

March 20, 2021

Kota The Friend & Statik Selektah "To Kill A Sunrise"

Brooklyn-based MC Kota The Friend teams up with iconic producer Statik Selektah for a brand new LP entitled To Kill A Sunrise. Statik Selektah has a knack for working with incredible artists ahead of their mainstream success... I trust him to put me onto artists of a certain ilk, and he rarely, if ever, disappoints. To Kill A Sunrise boasts smooth flows and crisp production from top to bottom. Some background on Kota, "Kota the Friend was born in Brooklyn in 1992. He started exploring music by playing trumpet at age eight, growing more and more interested in music production in his high school years. He performed in various bands and worked as a cinematographer for independent musicians' video projects before establishing himself as a solo artist with a trio of singles in 2017. Kota's style blended jazzy undercurrents with R&B touches over beats that took cues from multiple phases of hip-hop's evolution. Full-length debut album Anything was released in 2018, and included cameo appearances from Hello Oshay, Childish Major, and Angel Haze. Positive reviews and press buzz came quickly, but Kota decided early on to stay independent. He would turn down offers from major labels multiple times over the next few years, opting for a D.I.Y. approach that offered him more creative control. In 2019 he released the FOTO mixtape, and the next year he followed it up with the brief project Lyrics to Go, Vol. 1. Second studio album Everything was released in May of 2020." As for Statik, a quick look in the archives will catch you up on Statik's work in recent years. Now... take in the latest and perhaps the official breakthrough project in Kota's discography below...

March 19, 2021

Benny The Butcher "Plugs I Met 2" (Album Stream)

Mere months after releasing an undisputed AOTY contender for 2020 with Burden Of Proof and only three months after being shot, Benny is back on his feet (way ahead of schedule) and re-immersed in his element “back to that little pot, that little flame”. While he has separated himself from his peers, Benny from Montana Ave knows the game is to be sold and never told and he has put all of these accolades in his rearview mirror to focus on his next lick; The Plugs I Met 2. The Plugs I Met 2 is the coronation of a true G going from worker to the PLUG---and never looking back. “I came in as an underdog, to filling out my position as one of the elite rhymers in the industry. Plugs 2 expands upon that mindset; the same confidence, same attitude, cocky, but I still have something to prove” Benny asserts. Produced entirely by Harry Fraud, the Brooklyn bred producer describes The Plugs I Met 2 as “the story of a hustler who’s realized success but understands how fragile it is. Lyrically the album shows Benny reflecting on what he’s sacrificed to get here and what he’ll need to do to continue his rise to the top. With this project we set out to transport the listener into a world that was lush but still gritty, triumphant but still emotional and sonically diverse across the board.” The 9-track project features Chinx, 2 Chainz, Fat Joe, French Montana, Jim Jones and Rick Hyde. Glad Benny's back on his feet, check his latest offering below...

March 18, 2021

Happy Born Day, Queen Latifah! (Playlist)

Chicago star Dana Elaine Owens, better known as Queen Latifah, was just eight when she picked out the pseudonym Latifah which means "delicate, sensitive, kind" from a book of Muslim names. "I loved the way it sounded," she recalled later. "Even though I played basketball, climbed trees, fought boys, whipped their asses, and was big for my age, 'delicate, sensitive, kind' accurately described who I was inside." Born on March 18, 1970, in Newark, New Jersey, the daughter of a police officer and a schoolteacher, the launch of her rap career was in high school when she won a talent show with a group called Ladies Fresh. In 1987 she gave her demo tape to a DJ-friend and by the following year had a record deal. The Tommy Boy label released her house, reggae and jazz-accented debut album, All Hail The Queen, in 1989. Called the "Aretha Franklin of rap," Latifah's star also rose in the acting world after her film debut in Spike Lee's 1991 work Jungle Fever. A few small roles followed, and within two years she was cast in an ensemble sitcom, Living Single. She continued releasing popular albums including Black Reign featuring the Grammy winning single "Unity" and had her first starring big screen role in the all-female bank heist flick Set It Off. But as her sitcom came to an end in 1997, the ever-evolving Latifah decided to reinvent herself, this time as a chat show host. The program, The Queen Latifah Show, began its successful three-year run in 1999. Meanwhile, Latifah's film career was also on the fast track as she showed off her singing voice in the quirky Living Out Loud and landed roles in big-budget flicks like Sphere and The Bone Collector. Cont'd after playlist...

In 2003, the rapper-turned-actress-turned-TV star moved one step closer to her goals, garnering a best supporting actress nomination for her standout role in the movie musical Chicago. Latifah's path has not always run smooth, however. In 1999, she released a tell-all autobiography, Ladies First: Revelations From A Strong Black Woman, in which she revealed brushes with prostitution and the drug trade. "I've been to those dark places. And I will never go back to them," she wrote. "To get to the point of true contentment with who I am, I had to go through a whole bunch of years of being something other than myself." In 1992, the rap star went into a deep depression after the sudden death of her 24-year-old brother Lancelot Jr, a police officer who was killed while riding the motorcycle Latifah gave him as a birthday gift. In an attempt to turn the tragedy into something positive, she established a university scholarship foundation in her brother's name. Despite her troubled past in 1995 she survived a car jacking in which her bodyguard was shot, and the following year she was arrested for carrying a loaded pistol, driving without a license and possession of marijuana Latifah says she tries to keep the faith. "God keeps me on track because he knows I'm human and that I'll make mistakes," she says. "I want to get into heaven, so you'll never find me sinning too much. But in life I try to be brave and take charge." - Hello Magazine. In tribute to Queen Latifah, the incredible toy designer and DJ, Elana Kazi, created these marvelous boomboxes, which you can order HERE (while supplies last, they will sell out). Happy Born Day, Queen Latifah!

March 17, 2021

Happy Born Day, Sean Price!

Since the news of Sean Price's passing in 2015, I've come to accept that the loss of Sean P hit me harder than I'd anticipated. I'm on the record saying that I didn't always agree with his stance on various things, and that often times his music (especially as 1/2 of Heltah Skeltah was more of a "guilty pleasure" for me.) At the time, I missed a lot of the subtleties/nuance in his personality and his character, which were clear as day if I'd just paid closer attention. They scream out to me now from his music and in his comedic skits as I continue to look back. I was, however, fortunate to be introduced to Sean P at Southpaw via someone I'd known and respected since '96, and we had a chance to build about some things... I realized I'd had it all wrong. People humble me with their energy and it's a life lesson to see someone for who they are, and not just what you think. I won't say what'd irked me but he was quick to say something to the effect of "yeah, my old heads tell me not to be saying shit like that", with humility. Glad I had that convo before his passing. One of my favorite things about Sean Price has always been his signature delivery. He was well aware of his signature flow, as he described it in his own words in How To Rap 2 (2013), "I got my signature things that I do that you know is Sean P, like most of my rhymes end off with "P!" or "motherf#cker!" So you'll definitely have "P!" at the end of a rhyme or "motherf#cker," I guess [that's] my exclamation point -- "motherf#cker." I got a tendency to stop in the middle of my bar and just be like, "psssh," something like that, I got my own signature things. [And] the beat tells me which way to touch it, I listen to the beat, I just don't try to force no flow on it." I tell artists that rhyming a lot of words - quickly - doesn't make you an exceptional MC... Try to find the pocket; be clever with your wordplay and delivery, too. Last year, I posted a 60+ track playlist with many of my favorite verses/tracks... it's still relevant as ever. Sean Price would have turned 49 today... May he Rest In eternal Peace.

March 17, 2021

DJ Cosm "Natural Within" (Album Stream)

At the start of the year, Calgary producer DJ Cosm (AKA Cosmix) released his latest project, Natural Within. The Dragon Fli Empire member enlisted an all-star cast for the 10-track release, creating some incredible collaborations in the process. The line-up includes, in order of appearance, Fortified Mind, HalfCut, Merkules, The Legend Adam Bomb, El Da Sensei, Prince Po, Sadat X, Starvin B, Daniel Son, Saipher Soze, Chris Orrick, Ali Dahesh, Touch, Unknown Mizery (aka KingMizoMadeIt), Skanks the Rap Martyr, Theoretic Bars, Ghettosocks, Belvedere Spinello, A.Y.E., (and HHN site-favorite), Anti Lilly. - via HipHopCanada. You can listen to DJ Cosm's Natural Within streaming below...

March 16, 2021

Stretch & Bobbito Show "March 16, 1995"

March 16, 1995... this is the first hour of Stretch & Bobbito's WKCR radio show, which featured The Roots, Smif-N-Wessun and Buckshot kickin' freestyles, as well as tracks from Tha Alkaholiks, Double X Posse, Showbiz & AG, Boot Camp Clik, and Junior M.A.F.I.A.. The additional audio from the night isn't included in the Mixcloud link below, but the second hour featured another freestyle from Smif-N-Wessun and Buckshot, plus tracks from Heltah Skeltah, Half A Mil, Buckshot, Mic Geronimo, and more. Full disclosure: I wasn't sure what to post today; it was a busy day on my end, so I took a short cut with this one. I hope that you enjoy it nonetheless. Props to UnikOne for the second link.

March 15, 2021

Ea$y Money & Fabeyon "Beyond Ea$y" (Album Stream)

Ea$y Money (Haverhill, MA) and Fabeyon (Springfield, MA) team up for their collaborative effort Beyond Ea$y. Ea$y and Fabe stick to the script on this one: dope rhymes over knocking beats that are sure to keep the listener wanting more. Legendary producers (Buckwild, Statik Selektah) as well as up and comers (Shortfyuz, Melks, DJ Manipulator and more) provide the backdrop for this bar fest and a few lyrical juggernauts (Ransom, Termanology, Nems) add fuel to the verbal fire as Ea$y and Fabeyon carry tradition on this 13 track album. With a strong pedigree of both battle rapping and classic Golden Age boom-bap flow, Beyond Ea$y stands as a potent addition to Ea$y Money and Fabeyon’s growing catalogs. Another solid offering added to the ST. Da Squad legacy, listen below...

March 14, 2021

Kool G Rap & DJ Polo "Road to the Riches" (March 14, 1989)

Kool G Rap & DJ Polo's Road to the Riches had been a long time coming when Cold Chillin' released it in 1989. It didn't disappoint. After some successful singles and G Rap's contributions to Marley Marl's Juice Crew, the duo arrived almost fully formed on its debut. Whether boasting (his greatest strength at this point) or spinning tales (which would become his greatest strength), G Rap's knife-edged rhymes--delivered with the hardest sounding lisp in hip-hop--tear through Marley Marl's productions and DJ Polo's scratching with all the ferocity of a pit bull devouring a piece of meat. Though tracks like "Poison," "It's A Demo," and the title track won this record a lot of respect, there are several other moments that help make this a remarkable debut. On "Men At Work," lines like, "I drop rhymes on paper and then build a skyscraper/When I die scientists will preserve my brain/Donate it to science to answer the unexplained" whip by so fast that it's easy to overlook Marl and Polo's perfectly snarling, densely percussive backdrop. Marl's imaginative sampling gleans from all sorts of unexpected sources, like the harmonica from Area Code 615's "Stone Fox Chase," the odd phasings of Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" (no one used it like this), and the burbling synths from Gary Numan's "Cars" (remember, this was the late '80s). G Rap's occasional homophobic and woman-hating lyrics, along with some production nuances that haven't aged well, are the only hindrances. Aside from that, Road to the Riches showed promise while providing a jolt in its own right. - Old School Rap and Hip-Hop, 2008. I could not have said it any better. Revisit the LP below...

Take it back to 1989 with some early promo and more...

March 14, 2021

DJ Muggs "Dies Occidendum" (Instrumental Album)

Dies Occidendum is a mythical voyage across fog-laden, scorched earth terrain from the original friar of dark hip hop, DJ Muggs the Black Goat. Known and revered as the sonic mastermind behind both Cypress Hill and his own Soul Assassins imprint, here Muggs sheds the MCs and presents his latest dark-soaked productions as an illuminated manuscript of sorts; a fully immersive, instrumental soundtrack to the mysterious Dies Occidendum. No one wields the Excalibur of sonic darkness quite like Muggs. Combining ingredients of psych rock, gypsy folk with modern elements of trap, forged together under layers of his signature sonic grime, Muggs has created yet another blueprint for the utmost sonic menace and macabre. As one of the original architects of dark hip hop in the early ’90s, DJ Muggs helped craft a singular sound that blended darker sensibilities of psychedelic rock and hip hop in a unique way that influenced many in its wake. Stream his Dies Occidendum LP below...

March 14, 2021

2Pac "Me Against The World" (March 14, 1995)

No recent rapper has found himself better known but less understood than Tupac Shakur. Having spent more time in court than Perry Mason -- racking up charges of attempted murder along with a conviction for sexual assault -- Tupac burst into the mass consciousness as a tabloid-ready fiend. It only helped the media's cause that Tupac could fit an age-old cliche -- the angry young black man hellbent on revenge. Not that Tupac himself stood blameless in hawking this flat, inhuman image to the media. Every sneering statement and threatening gesture he made seemed calculated to appall and titillate viewers of the 11 o'clock news, leaving him a virtual cartoon of rage. Thankfully, the rapper's first album since his public demonization goes a long way toward humanizing him. While its title ("Me Against the World") may threaten more rounds of finger-pointing and macho posturing, the results offer a nuanced cautionary tale, full of vulnerability and even culpability. In "So Many Tears" and "It Ain't Easy," Tupac (aka 2Pac) explores, rather than exploits, his own nihilism, while in "Temptations" he maps out the war within himself (between doing the right thing and getting the quick fix). His most understanding passage comes in "Dear Mama" where he reconciles with his mother a former Black Panther and, later, a crack addict. Tupac's candor in describing his eventual appreciation of his mother shows true maturity. Revisit 2Pac's Me Against The World, cont'd below...

Tupac's words may stand out but his delivery and the music he matches them to hold only generic appeal. He favors a minimal style of hip-hop, with just the merest samples to decorate his bedrock of bass. This may have its draws, but originality isn't one of them a point that would matter less if Tupac's delivery had the musicality of hip-hop's greatest orators like the righteous Chuck D or the graceful Snoop Dog. In its stead, Tupac offers an Everyman quality, which at the very least ups his role as a besieged symbol. After all, "Me Against The World" hasn't held the No. 1 spot on Billboard's pop charts for the last three weeks for nothing. Tupac's public traumas resonate not only with alienated African-Americans but with teens of every race. If Tupac's articulation of his problems hasn't resulted in music as overwhelming as his notoriety, it has created a useful piece of sociology. His album offers a probing look inside a life normally seen skin-deep. - New York Daily News (April 11, 1995). Fans may not declare that 2Pac was the greatest RAPPER, but that vulnerability, trauma and everyman quality helped make 2Pac one of the most impactful artists of our generation. If you haven't already, dig in the archives HERE to read the album's original press kit. R.I.P., Tupac Shakur.