Sunday, 28 December 2014

PRhyme (DJ Premier and Royce Da 59) - PRhyme album review

Ever since Premier and Royce teamed up for the classic 12" "Boom" fans have been clamouring for more collaborations from these two Hip Hop generals.  There have been a few joints paring these two up since "Boom" and they have been great tunes for the most part.  Now ten years after the release of that 12" we have an album from Primo and Royce, nine tracks all produced by DJ Premier.  There are some guests appearances from Common, Jay Electronica, Ab Soul, Mac Miller, Dwele, Killer Mike, Schoolboy Q and Slaughterhouse.  Although the album is entirely produced by DJ Premier he uses samples of live instruments and those live instruments are played by Adrian Younge, who you might remember produced "12 Reasons to die" album for Ghostface back in 2013.  The album is released on DJ Premier and Royce's own label PRhyme Records.  Not only is PRhyme the name of the label its also the name of the group that Premier and Royce make up.
Track one is called "PRhyme" and clocks in at just under four minutes.  Its a slow track for Premier similar to Nas's "Second Childhood" rather than Premier's usual up tempo tracks.  The beat features a crisp set of drums and a nice cymbal.  There is a good baseline and a nice organ riff that comes in from time to time along what sounds like a harpsichord and pan pipes.  Royce is a very skilled wordsmith and he shows this throughout the track dropping metaphors and allegories throughout.  One of my favourite lines from Royce on this track is "I lost a whole bunch of money chasing bitches but I never lost a bitch chasing money".  Royce varies his speed throughout the track at times going slow and avoiding his quick rapid fire style.
"Dat Sound Good" is the second track on the album and the first to feature a couple of guest emcees; Ab Soul and Mac Miller.  The beat is more of the traditional Premier style with an up tempo rhythm and some dope samples.  A nice organ sample and a guitar riff make up the track and of course Premier slices them up nicely (good luck tracing those samples down).  Royce drops the first verse with aplomb with Ab Soul taking the over for the second and Mac Miller doing the final verse.  Of course Premier provides some lovely scratches for the chorus.  A very enjoyable track with a nice beat and decent verse from all three emcees.
Track three is kinda short but damn its good.  Its called "U Looz" and clocks in at just under 2 minutes (although they have a video for it, see above so maybe it will get an extended release as a 12").  It features an upbeat tempo with a heavy electric guitar sample, a tight snare and some dope scratching.  Royce comes hard with his lyrics and even addresses the fact that some people have been saying he is there to replace GURU.  Royce has some more great lines for example "I called my bullets The Expendables, because its hard to believe I can fit all of them boys in one clip".  A very good track with only one complaint about it, I wish it was longer.
Track four is called "You should know" and features the Detroit soul singer and song writer Dwele.  Its a more mellow track switching between a nice guitar sample and some lovely horns.  Royce again shows why he is considered a great Braggadocio emcee with lines like "Thats when I tell 'em like Kobe to Shaq You Lazy" and "I'm more Primo than my own DJ".  Dwele drops a nice lil' hook for the chorus which actually works for the song.  Of course DJ Premier scratches up some nice samples in between verse and at the beginning and end of the track.  Premier produces with instrumentation from Adrian Younge.
Track five is called "Courtesy" and it is a mid tempo joint with a nice 808 drum break and an organ sample.  These create a sparse stripped down joint for Royce to spit over.  He truly lets his complex rhymes flow on this joint with numerous metaphors that take some rewinding before you get his meaning.  This is the sort of rhyming you will never heard on a commercial joint quite simply because the record labels do not know how to market it, they think the majority of consumers won't understand the intricacies of it.
Track six is an interesting joint called "Wishin'" and it features Common.  The beat is slightly slower but features a fantastic guitar solo sample or at least it does for the introduction.  Once the intro is out of the way the track speeds up and alters the way it uses for the guitar solo sample from the intro.  It repeats this for the second verse which is from Common; slow intro then full speed ahead for the the rest of the verse.,  Its an interesting approach that shows Premier is still up for experimenting with his music and more importantly it works.   I enjoyed this track a lot although it could have benefitted from more than one verse from Common especially was his rhymes were only on the slower part of the beat.
Track seven is called "To me, To you" and features Jay Electronica.  Premier supplies a slower than usual beat featuring a dope guitar loop and some xylophones (I think).   Royce drops the first two verses and sound hungry.  Jay Electronica drops the third verse and he sounds good although a reference to Pharaohe at the start of the verse seems a little puzzling.  Its a decent enough track although nothing really groundbreaking.
"Underground Kings" is the albums eighth track and features Schoolboy Q and Killer Mike.  Premier drops a nice tight upbeat track with lovely snares, guitar sample and really nice scratches.  This doesn't sound like a regular Premier beat (not that I have a problem with Premier beats) its something different in a very good way.  Royce drops the first verse with Schoolboy Q doing the second and both of them represent nicely.  However as has been the case for a couple of years now Killer Mike owns the track like so many others he guested on.  Mike sounds hungry over this up tempo military sounding beat, spitting real fire.  Great track, one of my favourite on the album.
The last track on this album is called "Microphone Preem" and features Slaughterhouse which in this case is King Crooked, Royce, Joell Ortizz and Joe Budden.  The beat is raw and faster than most of the album with loud crisp drums and a nice organ loop.  All four emcees are spitting fire but off their performance Royce is still the strongest lyricist in the group.
This is a strong album that I enjoyed.  Royce is easily a top level emcee who can craft a good battle rhyme with the best of them.  Premier try something different on a number of the track here and it works.  He has clearly stepped away from that tried and tested formula although I would have still liked to hear a couple more of those tracks on here.  However I did enjoy every track on here but some where better than the others in my opinion.  In particular; "U Looz", "Underground Kings", "PRhyme" and "Dat Sound Good" are the stand out tracks for me.  However I do feel like this is a collection of very good tracks rather than a cohesive album. Maybe that is caused by the lack of interludes.  What I mean by this is albums like "Daily Operation", "The Sun Rises in the East", "Livin Proof" and a couple of the M.O.P. album sounded like albums crafted by Premier for the artists.  whereas this sounds like a collection of very good tracks.  If Premier and Royce will be working together again as a group I expect that this relationship will soon lead to a classic album.  This isn't a classic but it is easily in my top five albums of 2014.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Ghostface Killah - 36 Seasons Album Review

After the relatively disappointing Wu Tang album it was comforting to see that Ghostface was releasing his 11th (Damn) studio album on December the 9th.  This is a concept album based around Tony Starks' return to Staten Island after nine years away from the Island,  he is after a quiet life but of course that would not make for a good album.  The album itself is fourteen tracks long and released on Tommy Boy.  Production is supplied by a number on non Wu producers and features guest spots form AZ, Kool G Rap and Pharoahe Monch amongst others.  This album follows on from his 2013 concept albums "12 reasons to die" which was a strong original album that deserved numerous listens.
The first track is called "The Battlefield" and is produced by MOP's Fizzy Womack and the Revelations.  Kool G Rap, AZ and Tre Williams all join Ghostface on the Mic for a heavy track.  It features a mid tempo drum break and a nice electric guitar loop.  Tre Williams adds some dope singing to the track for the chorus.  Ghost drops the first verse with the Godfather G Rap taking on the second verse and AZ taking the third.  The rhymes are crime stories spoken with depth and complexity.  Out of all three emcees on the track AZ come with the dopest rhymes and when his fellow emcees are Ghost and G Rap thats a mighty task.
Track two is "Love don't live here no more" and has Ghostface telling us the tale of Tony Stark's return to his girlfriend after missing for nine years.  Kandace Springs provides a soulful reply to Ghost's rhymes telling him of her loneliness during his absence.  The beat is a nice mid tempo track produced by Malik Abdul Raahman and the Revelations.  It features a piano loop over some stripped down drums.  Below you can see the great video for it starring Michael K Williams from Boardwalk Empire and The Wire.
Track three is "Here I go again" and features AZ and Rell.  The beat is sweet with a very nice piano loop reminiscent of Infamous era Mobb Deep only not as dark.  Ghostface drops the first verse with Rell providing some nice mellow singing for the chorus. before AZ comes back in welcoming Starks back to the neighbourhood.  I usually don't like singing on Hip-Hop joint however Ghostface's understanding of when singing will add to the track and not detract from it is always on point and this track is another example of this.
Track four is "Loyalty" and is produced by The Revelations.  Its a somewhat short track with only two verses; the first is handled Kool G Rap and the second by Nems (no Ghost on this one). The beat features a sparse piano sample and a soft Spanish guitar loop, it switches between each of these samples throughout the track.  It could have been a bit longer and had a verse from Ghost on it but other than that its a dope little track.
The fifth track is called "It's a thin line between Love and Hate" and features the soulful tones of The Revelations who also produce the track.  This is a straight up soul track that could have been from the likes of William Bell or Bobby "Blue" Bland and come out in the mid seventies.  Its not a Hip-Hop track but its a damn fine track.
"The Dogs of War" is the sixth track on the album and once again features Ghostface Killah and Shawn Wigs.  It features a fierce bass guitar riff, some muted snares and xylophone stabs.  All three emcees rap about the dangers of dealing on their block.  Ghost and Kool G Rap come hard with their rhymes and Shawn Wigs handles the ad libs for the chorus.  It has a strange but interesting outro, all in all a dope track.
Track seven is a banger featuring Phroahe Monch called "Emergency Procedure" and produced by The Revelations.  Its incredibly funky with bongos, horns,  70's Wah Wah guitars and some heavy lyrics from two of Hip-Hop's best.  Ghost drops the first verse with Monch taking the second before Ghost comes back in again to finish things off.  One of my favourite tracks on the album.
The eighth track of the album is call;ed "Double cross" and features AZ with the Revelation behind the boards.  Ghosta handles the first two verse with AZ dropping the third one.  The beat is mid tempo with some crisp snares and a heavy bass riff.  It works well for both rappers who spin intricate storytelling rhymes over the dark beat.
Track nine is more of a soulful interlude featuring the second appearance of Kandace Springs on this album.  It is a very short track called "Bamboo's Lament" and it works well as a bridge between two tracks on the album.
AZ comes back for another spot on the album's tenth track, "Pieces of the Puzzle".  A dope track with a simple cymbal based beat with and organ sample or two.  Ghost drops the first verse continuing the story of Tony's return and his relationship with Bamboo who it is clear is the partner of AZ's character in this story.  The beat is very nice on this track and the variety of organ loops keeps it fresh throughout.
The eleventh track is called "Homicide" and features Shawn Wigs and Nems rhyming about how they will take their revenge on Tony Starks.  Shawn Wigs takes the first verse with Ghost taking the second.  After the second verse the beat changes up for a few bars before returning to the original beat for the remainder.  Nems handles the ad libs for the chorus.  The beat itself is hard with some super crisp snares.  It is produced by Malik Abdul Raahman and the Revelations.
The album's twelfth track is produced by the 45 King and the Revelations.  Its an up beat track with Ghost being chased by AZ who is out for his blood.  There are some sick horns and a nice little guitar sample.  The track is fast and it works well as a chase narration.  Its a nice use of an up tempo beat to create hectic fast paced imagery.
"Call my name" is the album's penultimate track and only Ghost has the mic for this one.  He pledges his allegiance to his people telling them to call his name when they need him and that he is NY's top contender and city defender.  The beat is again produced by the Revelation and is a nice straight up grimy beat with a dusty piano loop.
For the album's finale we are treated to an instrumental track that could have easily been released on Stax in the mid seventies.  Its mellow and it works.  Once again The Revelation provide the music and although short its a perfect ending to this album's tale of return and retribution.
In a recent interview Ghostface said this album took him eleven days.  he said he was given direction and a rough outline of the story before he worked with the other emcees and musicians to produce this musical story.  As a concept album is is very strong providing narration and character development throughout. The emcee's and singers provide a strong cast and in particular AZ and Kool G Rap play their supporting roles well.  However it is Ghostface who is the main attraction here, as he always is on his albums despite often having very strong guests.  However if we take away the idea of the concept album this is another strong Ghostface Killah album that works on a number of levels; musically and lyrically.  If you can only pick up one Wu Tang album this year it should be this, without a doubt.  Tony Starks is back although to be honest he never went away.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Wu Tang Clan - A better tomorrow album review

In late 1993 The Wu-Tang Clan unleashed their debut 12", "Protect Ya Neck" Bw "Method Man" on an unsuspecting Hip-Hop world and with the help of Nas brought back hardcore Hip Hop to New York after its long hiatus on the West Coast.  From there the Wu Tang Clan went onto own the 90s as far as Hip Hop was concerned with two group albums (One of them a double and it really was a double, not a single with a shitload of filler), more than fourteen solo albums, countless guest spots, soundtrack appearances and also side projects like Gravediggaz and The Redman and Method Man collaboration Blackout.  It is easy to forget how powerful the Wu-Tang Clan were in the nineties; artists never game themselves Mafioso pseudonyms until the Wu Tang came along, everyone was scrabbling to get a guest spot from anyone even closely associated to the Wu-Tang, they were independent before it was cool to be independent and that dusty distorted production was frowned upon until it was Rza behind the boards 
Then came the noughties and thing slowed down with only Ghostface consistently releasing strong projects.  Meth was off acting and Rza was more concerned with scoring films than producing Wu-Bangas.  When albums did drop they didn't have enough Rza production and too many tracks produced by Rza's acolytes and non Clan guest spots.  Yes one or two of them still went gold and even platinum in the case of The W.  However by the time we got to 8 Diagrams they weren't even going gold.  Compare this to Wu-Tang Forever which went 8XPlatinum.  I understand that sales is not an indication of a good album but it is an indication of however interested the fanbase is in the group.  As the late noughties arrived so did a resurgence in the Wu-Tang lead by Ghostface and Raekwon.  Ghost had not stopped releasing interesting projects all along using outside production from the likes of MF Doom, Jay-Dee, No ID, K-Def, Nottz, Just Blaze, Pete Rock, Adrian Younge,m Scram Jones and Jake One amongst others to ensure his sound stayed fresh and relevant.  Raekwon came back with a nice dose of nostalgia that took quite some time to deliuver but was awesome when it did drop, Only Built for Cuban Linx part 2.  That was swiftly followed up by Wu-Massacre which had Method Man joining Rae and Ghost, which was a very dope album.
Soon after this talk began of a new Wu-Tang Clan album.  There were disputes and arguments along the way but it appears they have been laid to rest and the group has managed to produce a full album (I'm not going to discuss the other ridiculously priced one of a kind album).  So this is my review of that album.  I will go over each song individually, all fifteen of them.
The album starts off with "Ruckus in B Minor" which is produced by The Rza and Rick Rubin and comes in at five minutes and twenty five second.  It begins with a Raekwon samples followed by and ODB sample telling us that we're "Going to love this".  This is a great track featuring all nine members and although its not a "Triumph" or "Protect Ya Neck" it is a step in the right direction.  It has a hard hitting beat that changes tempo a number of times throughout.  It has Rza's fingerprints all over it but some of the hard guitar and cymbals sound like Rubin's ideas.   There are some lovely strings and scratches throughout that add character to the track.  Meth throws in some nice ad libs and once again sounds like he did before he changed his style back when he did that Riddler track.  However lyrically all of the Clan sound hungry on this one, even Rae and Gza who have the parts of the song where the beat slows down.  But it still works despite the complexity of the music and the different styles of the lyricists.
The second track is called "Felt" and is almost the exact opposite of the first.  It starts off with a terrible Rza monologue over a double time beat.  there is a nice guitar sample that may it may have been possible to turn into a good track but this isn't it.  Rather than allow the lyricists to shine someone (namely The Rza) asked some low rent lyricists to get on board as if things weren't bad enough.  Skip this track.
The third track is called "40th Street Black / We Fight" and is an interesting upbeat track produced by Mathematics with The Rza taking a co production credit.  The beat sounds like it was made on an old dusty 808 and is totally stripped down with a nice vocal sample.  The track features INS, Deck, Meth, Gza, Cappadonna, someone who's name I cant place and The Rza all rapping with their foot on the accelerator.  It works and it sounds like it was made in a basement on a very tight budget and because of that it works.
Track four is "Mistaken Identity" which starts off with some anonymous crooner singing about going home.  Fortunately the singing dies and the end of the introduction and a nice off kilter piano sample comes in over some crisp snares. The lyricists spin tales of Mistaken Identity and the consequences.  Good old fashioned Wu storytelling.  Theres also a nice bass guitar sample in there somewhere that works well along with the occasional cymbal. This is a decent track not a major banga' but an album track off one of the better solo Wu albums.
As we reach the end of the first third of the album we get to "Hold the Heater" a mid tempo track with a shouty chorus.  The beat features a nice guitar loop that is somewhat under utilised and by that I mean its a good loop but would sound better on a Mobb Deep track rather than this one.  Meth continues to have somewhat of a renaissance returning to his older style that he used on the original 36 Chambers and Tical. 
The sixth track is a short one called "Crushed Egos" but its a real nice one featuring Raekwon over an ominous beat that could have easily been on one of his more successful solo joints.  In fact he is the only one rapping on this two and half minute track apart from The Rza who drops the third verse.  I like this mid tempo track that appears to be some sort of reconciliation to show Rae and Rza are in fact friends, perhaps the titles alludes to this.  Its a good track albeit kinda short but it works.  It's produced by The Rza and Adrian Younge who produced that Ghostface album last year, "12 reasons to die".  It has some nice tight snares and a good strings sample that sounds like it may have been lifted from a Western soundtrack.  This is a good but short track that I enjoyed.
The seventh track is called "Keep Watch" and is reminiscent of classic Wu joint; a off key piano loop, with some nice crisp drums and a haunting soul vocal sample.  Meth kicks of the track continuing his trend of traditional Meth rhymes.  As Meth finishes the first verse the song suddenly goes from being a possible banga to a disappointment with the inclusion of some rubbish soul singing for the chorus provided by Nathaniel.  It adds absolutely nothing to the song and only detracts from being a good Hip Hop track into a sad play for radio air time which it will not get because of the rhymes.  Deck, Gza and some other members of the Wu rhyme but they are overshadowed by the wack singing. Mathematics produces this one. Underwhelming at best.
At just past the half way mark of this album things are not looking good and the eighth track "Miracle" only send the album further into a dismal abyss of mediocrity. It starts off with some second rate JoJo or K-Ci telling us that we need a miracle via the medium of poorly sung lyrics.  Then the beat starts and its a decent orchestral beat with strings and cymbals.  Lyrically it works as various members of the Wu tell tales of street life in their own style.  However the JoJo rip off from the intro returns in between each verse reminding us of the poor choices made by the songs producer or even the group as a whole.  The producer by the way is that serial offender of Wu mediocrity, 4th Disciple with a Rza co production credit.
Up until this point the album was at it's worst mediocre but with track nine the album goes beyond that into cheap, offensive rip offs.  Track nine is called "Preacher's daughter" and it rips off the Dusty Springfield classic, "Son of a Preacher man" completely.  It really makes no difference how good the lyricists are on this track because the track itself is terrible.  The Rza takes full responsibility for this aberration.  If you were to take the rhymes out and drop them over a nice Doom beat or some Pete Rock track it would be fine probably even good but the underlying beat detracts from the skilled emcees.  It has a guitar sample with some horns directly replayed following the style of the original.  As if the poor use of sampling wasn't bad enough they have decided to have members of the Wu singing a terrible chorus.  Avoid at all costs.
Track ten is called "Pioneer the Frontier" and is produced by The Rza.  It starts off with some nice marches drums and a nice horns sample with cuts from various Wu joints over the year.  Rza starts off with some softly spoken rhymes with some simple but nice scratches in the background.  The horns sample is reminiscent of a Godzilla sound track sample.  INS and Deck follow The Rza on the mic.  All round the track sounds ominous and suspicious due mainly to the horns sample and the various Wu samples in the background.  Its a nice Wu track, not a major attention grabber but a good album track which has some nice ODB sample scratches towards the end of it.  One of the better tracks on the album.
Track eleven is called "Necklace" and is produced by 4th Disciple.  A slow track with a dark double bass sample with what sounds like a g├╝iro loop (one of those pieces of wood with notches on it that you run a stick along to create a ratchet like sound) dropping in sporadically.  Its a dark track with Cappadonna, Raekwon, Ghostface and Gza dropping dark rhymes over a track inter cut with a vocal sample saying "Brother I think that necklace is causing you trouble" that sounds like it was taken from a James Cagney gangster movie.  I really like this track its dark and gritty with a nice use of samples and loops by 4Th Disciple.
"Ron O'Neal" is the 12th track on a "A Better Tomorrow" and again is entirely produced by The Rza. The beat has a nice bass sample over what sounds like live drums.  Meth starts things off with a nice verse and is followed quickly by Deck who also shows he still has skills.  But then the hook comes in and yes its another wack soul singer crooning again before Ghostface grabs the mic.  One more chance to hear the boring hook before The Rza grabs the mic.  A fairly decent track ruined by another weak hook sung by some soul singer.  Do they think that putting a singer on it will get them radio play?  I really don't see how putting that soul singer on track helps either them or the singer.
"A Better Tomorrow" is the thirteenth track of the album and it is The Rza behind the boards again.  The beat is faster than most of the album and is uplifting featuring a nice piano loop and some lovely strings.  Lyrically the emcees are in a brighter place than the rest of the album.  Yes there is singing on this joint but it adds to the track and does not detract from it like the previous tracks on the album. I like this track.  I'm not sure who the male vocalist is but the female is Tekhitha who has been on a number of Wu tracks over the years.  Its a nice uplifting track with some decent singing for the hook.
The penultimate track of this album is another one produced by The Rza called "Never let go".  Again the drums on this sound live rather than sampled, not a bad thing as they work well with the horns samples.  All emcees resent nicely although Rza's verse sounded somewhat unenthusiastic as if it was being read rather than rhymed.  Again there is some singing for the hook, its not that bad is probably the best I can say about it but it would put me off listening to it again.
Onto the final track of the album, "Wu Tang reunion" which is produced by The Rza.  Its an upbeat joint with a fun xylophone sample and some nice 808 drums.  Again they insist on someone singing the chorus but this time it practically takes over the whole track leaving only space for three verses.  The track had promise and being called "Wu Tang Reunion" gave me hope it was going to be another nine emcee bang instead we get three of them and a whole lot of singing.
I had such high hopes for this album, I honestly thought that having The Rza back behind the boards would solve a lot of the issues their previous group albums had.  I was wrong the worst tracks on this album had The Rza's name down as producer.  Lyrically They all still showed considerable skills, although at times some of them seemed a little disinterested.  However what was so damming about this was the unnecessary singing and that terrible track "Preacher's daughter".  The inclusion of weak sung choruses add absolutely nothing to the album and only served to put me off listening to it again. Out of the fifteen tracks on the album I only gave six of them four or more stars and only one of them got a five.  Ultimately disappointing, in fact it doesn't even come close to my least favourite  Ghostface solo album.  In fact theres a new Ghostface album I will be reviewing a next and I'd almost bet money that will be a better album.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Deep Fried on Crackers

Every Thursday DJ Paulo and DJ Scott (me) will be playing classic Funk, Soul and Jazz breaks from 19:00GMT to 22:00 on Crackers Radio.  Tune in for some funky tunes and soulful grooves.