by: Ash Kumra
Dante - Roaming Empire – (HAVOC)
If you are into a real lyrical gritty style hip hop on real life experiences this album is for you. It is similar to the genre(s) J-Five, Digable Planets and others. This album will stand out to the lovers of from the heart songwriting and independent hip hop. There is an unique perspective with sheer honesty of anthems and freestylee flows. The delivery of the beats that you often do not see from the Detroit area.
I first looked into Dante and was happy to find he’s been doing joint concert work with the likes of KRS-1, Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Herc, Aphex Twin, Method Man, El-P, Atmosphere, Aesop Rock, Mos Def, Ghostface, D12, Immortal Technique, Sage Francis, Brother Ali, Blackalicious and even Ice Cube! This explains the diverse hip hop classical influences that you see throughout the album.
The track(s) “Tucker Stomp” give a great story telling of Detroit life. The hooks used in “Squak & Roll” is very fluid. There is a great sense of Jazz influence in “Bouncers”. DOA is a very political song focused on the second amendment and when it is properly used and exploited from both civilians and government officials alike. The song “Give Up” is a take back to the more rough urban living Dante grew up with and what he did to overcome this. He was definitely very personal in this experience.
Roming Empire as a whole has you wandering the diverse lyrical deliveries and beat(s) productions created. It also gives opportunities to many local Detroit and great Michigan based rappers to join alongside and be a part of the journey. You can see how Dante mentions their name(s) and what expect during the track credits in beginning at times especially in the track “Roaming Empire” (name of album so not surprised here).
The track “Absolute” is definitely my favorite. It brings back an era of the late 1990’s hip hop that have inspired rappers like Dante and many others. The beat is definitely a homage to the great east coast Brooklyn era type rappers.
In summary I would definitely recommend this album and it is a great representation of what Detroit rap can have.
Cold Duck Complex – Figureheads – (Cold Duck Complex)
Cold Duck Complex is a hip-hop fusion meets Jazz group that is truly eclectic and diverse. Lyrically they show a level of sophistication that goes beyond traditional hip hop listening. The instruments utilized in the album give such a fresh, raw, gritty sound that it’s hard to fathom that this was done in a studio and not an orchestra! Lyrically I feel it is more like poetry but expressed in more fun modern times. This actually helps with the group getting more non hip hop type acts as well. The album “Figureheads” is an amazingly created constructed manifestation that shows a conscious music vibe and empowers the group to be more expressive. The flow of the album is very straightforward and you can obviously tell they have a great passion for music and hip hop creativity. The album speaks directly to your hear with even the musical beats are deep enough to portray lyrics as well. The most exceptional member of the group Platypus Complex can really drop lyric bombs like no tomorrow! The synergy the remaining group has is second to none. It truly shows a marriage of thoughtful hip-hop lyrics to progressive jazz and rock music at it’s best. The track I really enjoyed the most was “Wake UP”. It was a powerful, take a stand type delivery that never seemed to fail on the promise the title would bring. Son of a snapper is really good too and something that has a timeless beat and delivery. One critique was i wasn’t thrilled with the radio edits being the primary track for some of some of the songs. The lack of profanity, shortened music tracks to fit radio waves can be felt at times. But still these tracks are very good and not to be miss. I am curious to see where the group(s) trajectory goes beyond this album. Its apparent they are pioneering this hip hop/jazz type fusion.
Excepter – Presidence – (Paw Tracks)
This album is all about defining art and how to integrate conscious minded music. The total album is almost two and a half hours and two disc total. The tracks do fly by though. Initially the tracks “The Rock Stepper”, “Ice Cream Van” add a cool conventional type rock genre (at least in my opinion, true rock and roll critics might think differently).
Listening to Presidence will take you two hours, 17 minutes and 36 seconds if you don’t count changing between the two discs. I was really impressed with the track’s “Leng” and “OG” shortly after. It is around 38 minutes so but provides this ambient type sound. “Teleportation” is worthy being it’s disc due to its length (30 plus minutes) but the variety of lyrics and music portrayed. “Open Well” is another track that epitomizes true ambient sound that can give your music bass a push!
The rest of the album goes to a more deeper sound into more modern urban electro sound. There is also some international flair and you see middle eastern genre type beats. As you move towards the end of the album you see a big switch back to the ambientce type sound. You see this in Disc 2 and more synthesize type sound(s) and deep heavy bass. And finally you get some deep experimental type sounds that for me at least give some type of statement or expression on what the future may hold for the group and beyond.
My overall criticism is the never ending source of multiple synthesizer fades that come in and out with the second disc. They don’t really add up to the overall album theme and flow. The album in my opinion is more on the dark ambient type sound of electronica but the fade(s) make it a little more confusing on the synchronisity front. However if you are looking for an album that can take you on a journey and into a deep dark sound. Really good when doing a writing session lol!
Edan – Beauty and the Beat - (Excepter Records)
Beauty and the Beat is the self-produced second album for the Boston-based rapper, Edan. It includes guest appearances from Mr. Lif, Percee P, Dagah and Insight. With a tremendous imagination, Edan drops his own distinct magical enigmatic tour. It is a stimulating, original, intelligent, and resounding effort by Edan. Edan's vision distinguishes him from the rest due to his ability to soak up his comprehensive scope of influences and create something different and unique while also keeping true to those who had an effect on his music.
Compared to his first album, Edan has changed his tone, made his content better, surmounted an independent, imaginative production style and produced an album that at the time was could have made the album of the year bid. One of the biggest differences between Edan and other hip-hop artists of the time was that Edan's unmatched knowledge of classic hip-hop aided him and that is reflected on his albums. Edan presents a very diverse album, as he samples everything from funk, to '60s and '70s rock. He channels two decidedly different types of music into a new one making it a collage of sounds that hasn't been heard in a very long time. Having established himself as a determined scholar of rap, Edan makes the leap to "serious artist" on Beauty and the Beat. The enormity of Edan's lyrics and voice on this album is perhaps what surprised fans and critics the most. He’s figured out how to rap so eloquently that even his battle rhymes have a surrealist focus.
Edan mocks the vanity of hip-hop by being so out-there vain. But it's more than just his strange affirmations. Nearly every bar of each song displays the images of his subconscious, leaving listeners to contemplate their meaning. Some of the lyrics, like with most songs, can just be nonsense but most of it is meaningful and significant. His poetic creativity and unique metaphors place him in a category populated by few. Edan’s music is without a doubt hip-hop. But it’s not the hip-hop we hear today. It is the hip-hop that appeared in the suburbs in the late-80's and was influenced by both metal and indie rock. Beauty and the Beat sounds like an album made by someone who once consumed the knowledge of hip-hop, researched and cataloged the history of his favorite artists, and now has a place among them. With that insight, Edan is no longer an imitation of his heroes, but one of their equals. The biggest issue many had with this album was the length. Clocking in at only 34 minutes, it is a decidedly short album. However, there are 13 distinct tracks that make the album come together, no matter how short it may be.
Dilated Peoples - Directors of Photography – (Rhymesayers)
Directors of Photography is the fifth studio album for underground rap group, Dilated Peoples. The album was released in 2014, after the group had been on hiatus since their previous album release in 2006. Listening to this album now is a bit strange because rap’s underground scene has since been deemed as something of the past by the Internet’s omnipresence. That’s not to say that underground rap doesn’t still exist; it’s just that it’s no longer arcane or counterculture. You don’t have to put much effort into finding groups like Dilated Peoples anymore because they’re here with all the other rappers in mainstream media. While the underground once functioned as a noncommercial entity in its own micro universe, exempt from mainstream collusions, in this digital age it is available online and at the click of a mouse. Directors of Photography shows a disobedient indifference for this new wave of media.
It seeks to preserve the stereotypical boundaries of what it means to be underground, by giving listeners an authentic how-to manual on what alternative rap really is. Directors of Photography is revitalizing in its rejection of the web-driven contemporary rap market’s blurred margins. Lyrically, the content is revitalizing. From the get-go on each track, the rappers grab a hold of the listener and don’t let go. In hip-hop, when defining a lyrically compressed album, there are many parts involved—messages, use of big words, flow, and so forth. Dilated Peoples touches on all of them with this album. Directors of Photography’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. The daring trio stick to a principle that have made them internationally known. The failure to stray from this formula results in repetitive records towards the end of the project. However, they stuck to what they knew and the results were tremendous.
When Dilated Peoples released their fourth studio album in 2006, it received mixed reviews. Eight years later, in 2014, their latest album displayed the maturation of the group and the ability to truly control the process of starting from scratch. Directors of Photography shows that three entertainers that have accomplished great things individually and have had individual success can come together once again to create something significant notwithstanding years of inactivity. Directors of Photography is an incredible effort made by Dilated Peoples. The production and lyrics are both exceptional. Directors of Photography sounds like the exact same Dilated Peoples formula they’ve been using since The Platform. This time, however, it’s more prominent both lyrically and musically. Production styles and verse patterns can often be characteristics of time and era. Directors of Photography, transcends this notion, and in the best way possible.