A$AP Rocky – AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP
When it comes to sophomore albums it’s usually a hit or miss situation, especially in the world of hip hop. A lot of pressure looms over the quality of a sophomore album, if a rappers debut record is a success then the expectations of their follow up is tremendous. The same can also be said if the debut album is a flop as the sophomore creates an opportunity for the artist to make amends which ultimately generates even higher expectations. Over the years we have seen plenty of failed sophomore albums (Raekwon – Immobilarity, Snoop Dogg – Tha Doggfather) however; we have also seen some amazing ones to (Eminem – Marshall Mathers LP, The Fugees – The Score), so where does AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP sit on this long list of sophomore attempts?
It was over two years ago when the world was introduced to LONG.LIVE.A$AP, the chart topping debut album from Rakim Mayers a.k.a. A$AP Rocky. L.L.A was a huge success and generated a number of hits such as Fuckin’ Problems, Goldie and Fashion Killa. Now the Harlem emcee has followed that up with his highly anticipated sophomore album AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP, a solid and forward moving effort that certainly doesn’t succumb to the sophomore slump however; at the same time it does fall just short of satisfying our high expectations.
At first those high expectations seem like they are going to be met after hearing the albums opening track Holy Ghost. With a retro guitar riff sampled from Lucero’s Noon as Dark as Midnight, the track holds a smooth tempo which features a polished flow from Flacko that actually seems to have improved since we last heard him. The smooth tempos continue with Canal St which is easily one of the best tunes on the album. The track is accompanied by a mellow piano beat that combines perfectly with A$AP’s crisp vocals, the beat and hook are actually edited versions from featuring artist Bones own track Dirt. Taking a stab at fake rappers Flacko goes hard on this one claiming he has always been honest and reputable however; some serious questions have to be asked about one line in particular ‘your favourite rappers corpses couldn’t measure my importance’. Is Jodye really stating that his influence and importance is greater than lost legends such as 2pac, Biggie, Big L and Guru? (Not even close!)
Whilst many consider Fine Whine to be one of the best tracks on the album, I believe it’s the first of the one to many boring tracks on here. Featuring Flacko’s trademark psychedelic sound and morphed vocals the song fails to make an impression. I think a bit more of M.I.A could have been helpful, I mean is 16 seconds really enough time to be considered a feature? And as for Future well let’s be honest does anyone really enjoy his annoying style of rapping? I sure as hell don’t.
L$D, Better Things, West Side Highway and M’$ all join Fine Whine in becoming the albums less impressive tracks, you could also throw Electric Body into this category but only once Schoolboy Q enters the picture. If A$AP would have made this a solo track it’d definitely be one of my favourite on the album unfortunately though Schoolboy Q lets it down with his Fred Durst/Yelawolf inspired tone.
That’s enough with the battering though because once you push past these ordinary tracks there is actually some really dope material. Take for instance Excuse Me, this would have to be without a doubt my favourite track on the album. Flacko’s flow on here is absolutely impeccable, running at almost four minutes we get to hear the Harlem native spit pure fire as he lets everyone know that his crew is supposedly running shit now (whilst I love the track I have to disagree with Rocky on that one as I think Pro Era are the leaders in the game right now!). The other highlights of the album go to Max B, Pharsyde and Wavybone, all of these tracks show a lyrically matured Flacko who seems to be at his best. Some of his best lines are delivered on these tracks in particular his dark verse on Pharsyde. Here we see A$AP rap about stumbling across a dead body in Harlem ‘Found his body parts in awkward places, like apartments, basements, garbage, vacant lots, garages, spaces, Harlem’s far too spacious’. Pharsyde is a deep track from a rapper who seems to be lyrically evolving, if there were more tunes like this on the album it would be a close contender for hip hop album of the year.
Everyday which features Miguel and Rod Stewart is probably the most talked about track on the album obviously because of its unlikely pairing. At first listen I was not a fan however; after a number of sittings I have to say the song has definitely grown on me, whilst you could say Rod Stewarts hook which is taken from In a Broken Dream is kind of corny, A$AP makes up for it with yet some more killer flows.
To be perfectly honest this album feels like a guilty pleasure at times because I’m not usually into this style of hip hop however; A$AP does it so well it’s impossible not to like. There are enough quality tracks on here to make A.L.L.A a solid album, as mentioned before a lot of artists have failed with their sophomore attempts however; A$AP fights off the sophomore slump and provides us with a compelling follow up. That being said though there are still one to many yawns on here that stop the album from reaching its full potential. A.L.L.A is definitely one of the better hip hop releases of the year thus far however; it falls short on becoming the best. That title in my opinion belongs to Joey Bada$$ and his debut album B4.DA.$$… but hey that could all change as there is a long list of promising albums still to come before the years end.
Eminem & Shady Records – Shady XV
Shady XV is exactly what we have to expect from Eminem these days, the album features a few good tracks mixed in with a larger portion of average ones. Shady XV is not just Eminem’s album though, the record celebrates 15 years of Shady records and features tracks from past and present members. Disc One has all new material from all current Shady Records artists including 5 new Eminem Tracks whilst Disc Two features the best tracks from past and present members of the label.
Eminem gets the ball rolling with the opening track SHADYXV and I must say its one of the better joints on the album. Em goes hard out on this five minute explosion, spitting straight bars for the entire track not stopping for a single second. Unfortunately the rest of the solo Eminem tracks aren’t really worth talking about, Fine Line and Right For Me feature Em’s new awkward flow that I just can’t get into whilst Guts Over Fear has that Recovery feel to it which I’m sure the new fans will love however; the older die hard fans will find it quite disappointing. Die Alone sees a more slowed down and polished flow but it still doesn’t do enough to really raise any eyebrows.
I think its safe to say that Royce brings out the best in Em and this is evident on their Bad Meets Evil track Vegas. Both MC’s bring their A game for this verbal onslaught, you could say that Royce almost steals the limelight not just here but throughout the whole album. Psychopath Killer is one of my proffered joints on Disc One, the hard hitting track features Royce and Crooked I of Slaughterhouse and both of them spit killer verses. Em takes out the third verse and whilst he sounds dope it does begin to fall into his new awkward flow where it sounds like he is trying to fit too many words into one sentence. Yelawolf provides the hook and surprisingly does an incredible job (this would be one of the only times I actually enjoy him).
My favourite track on Disc One is the Slaughterhouse’ DJ Premier produced Y’all Ready Know. Premo brings that boom bap sound while each member of Slaughterhouse completely destroy their verses. D12 make their long awaited return however; its a disappointing one. I was really looking forward to hearing some new material from them but to be honest after hearing Bane I think I would have proffered not hearing anything at all.
As I mentioned before Disc Two features the best tracks from past 15 years of Shady Records. 50 Cent makes five appearances with I Get Money, In Da Club, P.I.M.P, Wanksta and You Don’t Know which also features Eminem, Lloyd Banks and Cashis. After listening to their poor track on Disc One its good to hear some classic jams from D12 such as Purple Pills, My Band and Fight Music. Eminem decides to add his Grammy award winning hit Lose Yourself and on top of that he includes a demo version of the song that he supposedly found in the vault whilst coming up with what tracks to put on the Disc. Whilst the version we all know and love today is definitely better the demo version is still a cool listen.
Look overall Shady XV is an average album, Disc One has two or three tracks that will probably make your playlist however; the rest will live in the background of your iTunes and while Disc Two features some amazing tracks chances are you already have them.
Clockwork Indigo – Clockwork Indigo EP
Rising out from the dark corners of Flatbush, Brooklyn is hip hop’s most psychedelic group who go by the name Clockwork Indigo. The supergroup consists of hip hop duo The Underachievers and hip hop trio Flatbush Zombies. Both crews have combined their raw styles to bring us their debut self titled EP Clockwork Indigo. The whole project is really impressive whilst their unique approach is completely different to anything in the game right now.
The EP erupts with Butterfly Effect, a seven minute verbal onslaught that sees all members spit straight fire over a dark and grimy beat which sounds like it was made straight from an underground drug lab. Things only get heavier when LUAM kicks in. The hard hitting track explodes with a somewhat freaky beat that sees a raw pre-hook from Darko and quality verses from Issa Gold & AK.
The gloomy vibes continue with XYNO, an ominous track that produces some of the best flows of the EP. Darko verse is one of my favourite on the whole EP, his lyrics and the way he delivers them are on point, a stand out being “Benjamin Franklin, my guardian angel, if I see Jesus I’m taking his halo”. Erick’s verse is just as good with his smooth and rapid flow.
The last two tracks Benefit Concert and System don’t quite live up to the previous three tracks but nonetheless they still provide a quality end to an incredible debut EP. Clockwork Indigo is definitely one of the best releases of the year and a great indication of what we can expect next from this dark and twisted supergroup.
Baro – HOWGOODISGOOD?
It’s the middle of summer, the sun is shining, the sky is blue and there I am chilling by the pool with a blunt in my hand completely immersed in the chilled sounds that are playing through my speakers. This is exactly what I picture when I listen to “HOWGOODISGOOD?” the latest mixtape from Melbourne’s newest wonder kid Baro. At just 17 years of age Baro is already raising a few eyebrows with his unique style of hip hop that is like nothing I have heard come out of this country before. Put together mostly in his own bedroom “HOWGOODISGOOD?” is a combination of chilled beats and smooth rhymes that sends each listener into a state of tranquillity.
Whilst Baro brings his own unique style to the table it’s also obvious who his main influences are. His mix of rapping and singing on tracks like “This is my Introduction” and “I Can’t Say I’m Not Surprised” are heavily reminiscent of the legendary Mos Def. The sounds of Australia’s very own Sticky Fingers can also be heard in the harmonious ballad “Everything”. When it comes to the production side of things there seems to be a strong Pro Era feel to the classical jazz like beats. All these influences combine well with Baro’s own style to create one hell of a creative mixtape.
Baro has made “HOWGOODISGOOD?” a feature heavy affair which works quite well. Charlie Threads and Ta Waere join in on the mellow flowing “Amber” and don’t disappoint whilst Emerson Alexander lends his soulful vocals for the gorgeous vibes of “Cinema”. We also hear from Ray and Marcus who feature on the cruizey joint “Paradise”. Picking a favourite track from this incredibly dope mixtape is almost impossible however; Baro’s smooth flow on “Travellin’ Through Time” is definitely a stand out. His laidback rhymes go together superbly with the blissful sounds of the saxophone to create the highlight of the tape.
“HOWGOODISGOOD?” is exactly what the Australian hip hop scene needs right now. Baro’s style is a breath of fresh air that should be heard by everyone. This mixtape is available on the website http://www.bandcamp.com as a name your price download however; don’t be a tightass! I’m not saying you should spend all your money on it, I’m just saying you should support our home grown talent even if it’s only a small contribution (Trust me its worth it).
You can catch Baro on a string of shows around the country at the moment just check his bandcamp page for dates and locations. For my Sydney peeps he will be performing at GoodGod Small Club on the 9th of October and at the Metro Theatre supporting Allday on the 10th. If you like what you hear than I suggest you go along to one of those gigs, I know I will be.
Slimkid3 & DJ Nu-Mark – Slimkid3 & DJ Nu-Mark
Are we really in the year 2014? Because it feels like I’m back in the 90’s after listening to the collaborative self titled album from The Pharcyde’s Slimkid3 and Jurassic 5’s DJ Nu-Mark. The hip hop veterans have teamed up to create one of my favourite albums of the year, a time transferring album that has just the right amount of nostalgia whilst still sounding fresh. Both artists really bring their A game to the show, Nu Marks boom bop style combines well with Slimkid3’s smooth flow to create a classic vibe that is almost non existent in todays industry. While its hard to find anything wrong with this solid album there are one or two moments that seem to lower the bar however; these moments become insignificant in an album that is filled with mostly top quality material.
The ten track LP kicks off with “Work Hard”, an explosive opener that you can’t help but nod your head to. The energized track which features K-Natural is the perfect introduction and sets the standard for the rest of the album. The classic vibes keep coming with “Let Me Hit”, a catchy smooth flowing jam that could easily be mistaken for a Jurassic 5 track which is always a good thing. The sounds get even better when “I Know Didn’t I” rolls in, the melodic track which features the late Darondo is a harmonious ballad of soulful voices and old school samples that really grab the listeners attention. The great streak doesn’t last forever though as things start to sound a bit out of place in “Fade To Black”, followed up with the dull and repetitive sounds from “King”. These minor flaws are soon forgotten as soon as “Bom Bom Fiya” starts pumping out of the speakers, the groovy piano beat creates a party vibe that just makes you want to dance. Slimkid3 lyrical ability really starts to shine in “Godzilla or Gamera” , the track features a more simple beat from Nu-Mark which purposely puts more emphasis on Slimkid3 awesome word play. The final track “Bouillon” is a continuous rhyme fest from Slimkid3, Murs and Del The Funky Homosapien. Each artist brings their A game spitting pure fire to close up a very dope album.
The chemistry between Slimkid3 and DJ Nu-Mark makes it feel like the pair have been together for a very long time and the old school, chilled out vibes that they create are hard to come by these days. At times things seem to be heading in the wrong direction however; these moments are only short lived and quickly disregarded. Overall the album is a real joy to listen to, the world needs more music like this.
QuESt – Searching Sylvan
Hailing from the hot streets of Miami, QuESt first gained mass attention after winning the “Survival of the MCs” contest back in 2009. The aspiring young rapper won a deal with rapper/producer Jermain Dupri and TAG records, unfortunately it wasn’t to be as the label folded shortly after, since then the experimental rapper has released numerous tracks and mixtapes which brings us to his latest project “Searching Sylvan”. The 17 track mixtape which clocks in at just over an hour is an explosion of creativity; each song has its own story that connects with the whole theme of the tape so listening from start to finish is a must. The tape starts with a sombre conversation between QuESt and who we assume is his mother which than leads into the opening track “Maybe I Should”, a great opener that features QuESt rapping over a tranquil piano beat. Things start to heat up after “Automatic” and the tape hits its peak half way through with the fast flowing track “Hunger”. In my opinion the best material is in the first half of the tape, the second half becomes a bit dull and fails to live up to the first but still has a solid finish. The beats are kept quite simple all the way through which works well as it puts more emphasis on his amazing lyrics and strong story telling ability. Overall its a quality joint from QuESt who puts his heart and soul into this mixtape and it defiantly shows.