Kingdom Crumbs

kingdom crumbs

 

The past few years have seen a revolution in Seattle hip-hop. And no, I’m not talking about Macklemore and the insane popularity of “Thrift Shop”. Instead, the real Seattle hip-hop revolution is happening with groups like Shabazz Palaces, Thee Satisfaction, and the Cloud Nice record label. While Macklemore may be proving to the world that Seattle does in fact have a hip-hop scene, these artists are proving that Seattle hip-hop is not just poppy songs about going to the Goodwill.

Cloud Nice is an independent record label found in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. The label is one of the strongest Seattle hip-hop labels out there right now, and Kingdom Crumbs is their poster child. The group consists of Tay Sean, Mikey Nice, Jarv Dee, and Jerm D, four rappers and producers who call Cloud Nice home. As opposed to bigger area names like Shabazz Palaces or Fresh Espresso, Cloud Nice is a much better model of the Seattle hip-hop aesthetic. Everything is built in-house, with the rappers playing just as key a role in the production as anyone else. Cloud Nice uses a self-described DIY approach, with great success.

Seattle has a history of making music that is counter to the main-stream. When arena rock was getting huge we had Nirvana. When garage rock was becoming popular we had Fleet Foxes. Kingdom Crumbs and Seattle hip-hop in general is no different. While much of modern rap is known for bravado and is very in-your-face (ie. Lex Luger, Rick Ross, and Kanye West), Seattle hip-hop is thoughtful and overtly musical. Kingdom Crumbs raps over simply beautiful electronic beats, influenced just as much by Caribou and Aphex Twin as other traditional hip-hop influences. Tay Sean and Mikey Nice are incredibly creative behind the boards, with some songs using two or three distinct and powerful beats. If you have never listened to a Seattle rap group before, the production may need some getting used to, as it is incredibly different from any hip-hop outside of the northwest. There is a lot of stuff going on in these beats, and they are much more complicated than a simple Lex Luger piano riff. However, they are musically genius, and rewarding to the careful listener.

Listening to Kingdom Crumbs is an experience unlike many other rap albums. Kingdom Crumbs is a relaxing album, more so than most other hip-hop albums I’ve listened to. Kingdom Crumbs have some of the best production in the game. Now if only their lyrics can catch up. Aesthetically, their rapping is pretty good. Maybe even above average. However, their lyrics don’t bring anything new to the table. If you’ve ever listened to any indie or underground rap, you’ll have heard much of the same stuff that these guys are rapping about. Since I’m from Seattle, I love the 206 shoutouts sprinkled in throughout the album. However, to everyone else, these will sound like any other city represent. Considering that this is the groups first album, I expect great things from them in the future. They have work to do, but I am incredibly impressed with these rookies. Kingdom Crumbs is a must listen for any self-respecting Seattleite.

Free The Universe

maja laza

Major Lazer is one of the most polarizing/bizarre projects in music. Originally from the minds of L.A. producer Diplo and Jamaican DJ Switch, Major Lazer was designed as a dancehall/techno/hip-hop/indie rock side project for the two DJ’s. However, the project exploded in 2009 after the single “Hold The Line” was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award. This produced the first official Major Lazer album, Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do. Guns was a very confusing album. Throughout the whole album, it was hard to find exactly what music style the two were going for, and not doing very well at mixing together any of them.

Switch is now gone, leaving Diplo alone to make Major Lazer’s sophomore album. If this had been any other DJ, it would have been safe to say that Major Lazer was done. However, Diplo is not just any other DJ. No, this is the man who made “Paper Planes” a hit for M.I.A., and who is responsible for much of the recent production for Beyonce, Usher, and No Doubt, just to name a few. Diplo is a musical genius, so anticipation for the second Major Lazer album has been high.

Not helping anything was the release of the first single from the album, “Get Free”. Featuring Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors, the slow, relaxed, placid reggae beat that Coffman sang beautifully over was a shock for Major Lazer fans. Never had Diplo produced something so relaxed, so utterly devoid of the typical disc scratches and random yelling you usually expect from the producer. Major Lazer was meant to be a dancehall project anyways, and “Get Free” was certainly not something you wanted to dance to.

Well, don’t worry folks, “Get Free” was not an indication of the direction the album was going. While it remains an amazing track, and probably my favorite on the album, Free The Universe is still very much a dance album. However, the dancehall influences have decreased dramatically with the loss of Switch. While Free The Universe still clearly has Jamaican dancehall/reggae influences, Diplo has brought more of his EDM background to his follow-up. Luckily, most of these changes are for the best. “Jah No Partial” features the British dubstep group Flux Pavillion, and is one of the few dubstep songs I can truly listen to. “Jet Blue Jet” is dancehall envisioned through EDM music, and leads to a crazy assault from all sides. “Keep Cool” begins as a very standard EDM song, until Shaggy comes in out of nowhere and turns the whole thing into a Jamaican party.

What is more surprising about Free The Universe is Diplo’s continued use of hip-hop beats throughout the album, with mixed results. The first track off the album, “You’re No Good”, takes the best parts of Major Lazer’s first album and mixes it into one song. However, there is also “Bubble Butt”. For my money, “Bubble Butt” has a serious run for being one of the worst songs released this year, mostly due to an insistence of using the chorus “Bubb-Bubb-Bubb-Bubb-Bubble Butt”. Big Sean also drops one of the worst verses I’ve heard from him in a while. And to make things even weirder, Bruno Mars whisper raps one of the most uncomfortable verses I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.

Luckily, misses like this are few. That being said, Free The Universe is an exploratory album. Diplo changes up sounds often on this album, even when he’s found one that works well. Sure, if he had stuck to the sound he uses in “Get Free” or “Jessica” (a great track featuring Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend), he would have made a much more consistent album. But then we would not have had such great experiments as “Keep Cool” or “Mashup the Dance”. Free the Universe is not for the faint of heart, but for those who don’t mind a little weirdness, it is a must-listen.

Indicud


indicud

Kid Cudi. Where do I begin? The Cleveland rapper began his career as another Kanye West protege. However, while many of Kanye’s proteges have faded into obscurity, Kid Cudi has stuck around. It’s easy to understand why. Kid Cudi is a hit with the so-called “Backpack” crowd: hip hop fans who listen to artists who aren’t “gangsta” or otherwise. Kid Cudi’s first album, Man On the Moon, was a backpack rap magnum opus, despite the fact that the album was a bloated, egotistical, self-absorbed exercise in self-pity. Hits like “Soundtrack 2 My Life” and “Day N Nite” were definitely great songs, but the album couldn’t help but fail under the weight of Cudi’s own ego. For his follow-up, the even more self-importantly titled Man on the Moon Part II; Cudi delivered an even more self-absorbed, bizarre, barely listenable disc. Cudi has been gaining more ground with his fans, delivering a few hits that seem to get back to his Man on the Moon part one days, but its hard to see how Indicud would be any difference.

Well, Indicud has leaked. Unfortunately, this is a continuation of Cudi’s past artistic output. Whats most infuriating is that there are quite a few great moments on this album. The first two tracks on the album are phenomenal set-up tunes. The slow buildup that is “The Resurrection of Scott Mescudi” and the dark brooding nonsense that is “Unf*ckwitable” make two great intro songs that get you in the mood for a tense, brooding album. This is where Kid Cudi is at his best: when his production takes prominence and his terrible, absolutely nonsense lyrics take the backseat to simply sounding cool.

However after these two songs, things begin to derail quickly. “Just What I Am”, after a passable verse from fellow Cleveland rapper King Chip (the artist formerly known as Chip da Ripper), devolves into a barely listenable robotic nonsense song. And then it gets worse. “Young Lady” takes a great Father John Misty sample and turns into an un-listenable dump. Cudi begins to sing-rap over a sonic mess of synths and guitars. What Cudi needs to learn about production is that you cannot have so many sounds competing for your attention. While sometimes this approach works, like on “King Wizard”, and “Solo Dolo Part II”, most times it simply does not.

“Solo Dolo Part II” is a great example of what makes Kid Cudi so infuriating to me as an artist. The song starts with an unintelligible verse from Kid Cudi, which hi-lights his weakness as a rapper. He sounds buried under his own beat, and in the moments where the beat pauses for a second and focuses on Cudi’s rapping, the listener is almost assaulted by Cudi’s absolute nonsense. Then, after a terrible minute and thirty seconds or so, Kendrick Lamar comes in and delivers a great verse. Where Cudi is stifled under his own beat, Kendrick takes the beat and uses it to his advantage. He spins the beat around and assaults you from all angles with it, using the confusion to make you feel confused and  insecure. While Kendrick makes you confused, Kid Cudi can’t help but be confused.

Simply put, Kid Cudi isn’t a good enough rapper to pull off an 18 song album. All of the guest artists kill him on his own tracks, from Wu-Tang’s the RZA to Too $hort. While Cudi’s rapping is terrible, his production has something to it. Some tracks have great beats, and with a better rapper, they would be great songs. However, Cudi simply cannot handle his own beat-smithing. Fans of his last two albums will certainly find something to love here, but if you’re in the same boat as me, expect to be frustrated yet again.

The Top 5 Wu-Tang Albums

wu-tang

The Wu-Tang Clan is one of my favorite rap groups of all time. Run-DMC may have been the first rap stars, Public Enemy may have been much more important, and A Tribe Called Quest may have a better track record, but Wu-Tang Clan holds a special place for me. The collective is one of the most prolific in history, with eight amazing MCs, many of whom would later go on to great success. With so many different albums  and side projects, it is sometimes hard to decide where to start with the group. To help alleviate this struggle, here are my top 5 Wu-Tang Clan and Wu-Tang related albums.

5. Method Man & Redman: Blackout!

meth and red

Method Man is the joker of the Wu-Tang Clan. His lyrics have never been anything to write home about. As opposed to many of the other members of the Wu-Tang Clan, Method Man has never asked that the listener takes him seriously. There’s something to be said for this level of self-deprecation. While Ol’ Dirty Bastard was having a verbal freak out, or Ghostface Killah was getting emo, or Raekwon was telling dark street stories, Method Man only wanted to have a good time. And there is no more fun time in the Wu-Tang canon than Blackout!. Method Man and Redman had been collaborating for a while, with Meth appearing on Redman’s tracks and Redman dropping verses on Method Man’s albums. Blackout! is the equivalent of Kanye West and Jay-Z’s Watch The Throne: two great rappers in their prime getting together to release an album where they could relax and have fun. And Blackout is very fun. Tracks like “Da Rockwilder” and “1,2,1,2” are nothing but great rapping and a lot of fun. Blackout! is a great crossover album; a place to start for those who are new to the Wu-Tang Clan.

4. GZA The Genius: Liquid Swords

liquid swords

GZA the Genius and RZA were the people who started the Wu-Tang Clan. They were the ones behind the collective philosophy, allowing each rapper to have a solo career so long as they agreed to promote Wu-Tang. Therefore it would make sense that GZA’s first solo album would be very similar to Wu-Tang’s first album. GZA takes the Wu-Tang obsession with kung-fu movies and extends it throughout a whole album. With intros and samples from classic films, GZA takes his street stories and sets them in a different tone. Liquid Swords relies heavily on RZA’s trademark production style, heavy on repetitive samples and dark, hazy style. Tracks like “Investigative Reports”, “Liquid Swords”, and “Shadowboxing” tell a much darker tale than Wu-Tang’s previous effort. Think of Liquid Swords as a sequel to Enter the Wu-Tang, with a darker atmosphere.

3. Ghostface Killah: Fishscale

fishscale

Ghostface Killah is one of the smoothest, intelligent, and talented rappers ever. However, he is also very experimental. While he does have a very specific flow, over the years he has deviated from the Wu-Tang style more than any other rapper in the collective. He has gone to everything from emo, R&B, and everything in between. Sometimes these experiments work, and other times they fall flat on his face (I’m looking at you Ghostdeini). Fishscale is one of the few albums where every experiment pays off big time. One of my favorite moments on the album is right after “R.A.G.U”, a track where Raekwon and Ghost get very old school Wu-Tang. There is a short skit, and then the very next track is “Whip You With A Strap”, a song about Ghost’s mom punishing him as a kid. The transition is crazy, yet also works spectacularly. On “Underwater” Ghost delivers the single most psychedelic song in rap history, with Ghost rapping about swimming with mermaids. But for the Wu-Tang faithful, there are also plenty of classic Wu-Tang style tracks, like “Shakey Dog” and “Kilo”. If you’re ok with a little bit of sonic experimentation mixed in with your rap, then Fischscale is the one for you.

2. Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx

only built 4 cuban linx

When it comes to the best hip-hop albums of all time, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is high on the list. Many people forget that after Enter the Wu-Tang, the only rappers to have massive popularity were Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Method Man. Ghostface Killah did not explode until after his many appearances on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx not only served as a coming out party for Ghostface, but also proved that Wu-Tang Clan could make just as good solo albums as they could as a group. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx relies heavily on Raekwon’s amazing lyrical prowess, as he crafts stories that rival any told in hip-hop before or after. On Enter the Wu-Tang, Raekwon acted as glue between the more out there MC’s like ODB and Method Man. On Only Built For Cuban Linx, he takes advantage of his time as a solo artist. As the focus is solely on him and Ghost, it becomes clear just how good of a rapper Raekwon really is. While he lacks the flair of the other members, Raekwon’s ability to convey emotional lyrics with an intelligent style makes him one of the best in the collective. Tracks like “Knowledge God”, “Heaven and Hell”, “Ice Cream”, “Guillotine”, and “Verbal Intercourse” (which features a great verse from Nas) are all instant classics. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is equal parts beautiful and raw, and deserves a spot among the greatest rap albums of all time.

1. Wu-Tang Clan: Enter The Wu-Tang Clan

enter the wu-tang clan

I can remember the exact first time I heard Enter the Wu-Tang Clan. I was in 8th grade, and I had heard Ghostface Killah on the radio. After a little more research, I downloaded Enter the Wu-Tang Clan. After I listened to it for the first time, I started the album over again. After I was done the second time, I put it on again. For my whole freshman year in high school, I listened almost exclusively to this album. What sets Enter the Wu-Tang Clan apart from the rest. Why, even after 20 years, is this album still so powerful? The answer is simple. Enter the Wu-Tang Clan gives the listener a peek into the life of the rappers themselves. By not changing anything about their style to appeal to the listener, Wu-Tang Clan gives the listener a sense of community. All of a sudden, their slang becomes the listener’s slang. They never talk down to the listener as other rappers are prone to do. As opposed to a tour of their world, Wu-Tang Clan drops you off into the streets of New York and makes you fend for yourself. Instead of taking you to the ghetto, like albums like Illmatic or Ready to Die do, Enter the Wu-Tang Clan takes the ghetto to you. Enter the Wu-Tang Clan is not only a musical triumph, but also a business one. Enter the Wu-Tang Clan was the first indie rap album to go platinum, as it deserved to do. I wish I could say which tracks you need to listen to in particular, but unfortunately every song on this album is required listening. If there’s really only one choice, I would suggest “Protect Ya Neck”, a track that is brilliant, if only for the fact that RZA somehow manages to fit all eight rappers into one song. However, every single track on this album is brilliant.

New Jet City

new jet city

Rap in the mixtape era is all about diversity. Because of the sheer number of rappers people can find on the internet, there are different styles and sub-genres for people of every taste. And since most of these rappers are still trying to get famous, a lot of these mixtapes are of album quality. Curren$y’s latest mixtape, New Jet City, is no exception.

Curren$y has been making album quality mixtapes for a while. Some highlights include Smokee Robinson, Return to the Winner’s Circle, and Verde Terrace. If you are unacquainted with Curren$y’s style, then it may take a while to get used to. Curren$y is not a lyrical rapper. He mostly sticks to lines about girls, cars, and drugs. You should not come into a Curren$y album expecting a journey or exploration of complicated themes. While Spitta definitely drops some cool, quotable lines, his writing is mediocre at best.

But that is not the reason to listen to anything Curren$y has ever done. Curren$y is all about the atmosphere he provides. He is easily the most listenable rapper I’ve ever heard. I could honestly listen to him rap for forty minutes straight completely A Capella. The way he mushes lines together is fascinating. Most rappers use a very staccato style. One line is separated completely and succinctly. Curren$y on the other hand uses a completely different technique, where the spaces between lines are less about drawing attention to the rhymes, and more about bringing focus to particularly interesting lines. A prime example of this on New Jet City is “Living For the City”. Curren$y’s style is hard to pull off, and there is no better evidence for this than the various Young Roddy cameos on the tape. Roddy is Curren$y’s protoge, and while he is very good at the mushy-mouthed style, he is clearly no Curren$y, and it shows that while Curren$y may sound like he isn’t trying very hard, his music is not so easy to pull off.

Speaking of cameos, New Jet City features quite a few big ones. The beauty of Curren$y’s style is that it makes his guest spots feel all the more important. Even if his guests are mediocre, the contrast they provide makes the verse they drop all the more interesting. Take for example, Jadakiss on the early tape track “Clear”. Jadakiss hasn’t dropped a good verse in years. In fact,  I was ninety-eight percent sure he had died. Yet the force and ferocity he provides on “Clear”, while not necessarily all that fierce on your standard mixtape, sounds all the more so on a Curren$y tape. Trademark drops a very great feature on “Coolie in the Cut”, and for his voice is so prominent on the song it might as well be his. Wiz Khalifa drops his best verse since Kush & OJ on “Choosin”. Juicy J stops by to make another ridiculous and pleasantly over the top verse on “Three 60”. And even Juvenile, who has been for all intents and purposes dead in the water since who knows when drops a sick verse on the tape.

The tape also features great beats. They’re all pretty typical Spitta fair, with lots of piano and Houston influenced beats. Of greatest notice is “Mary”, with probably the best beat on the tape. An airy vocal sample and a great piano hook ride over a staccato, hard, Lex Luger influenced influenced drum machine. But what sets the beat apart is the subtle horns in the background that hint at a deeper terror. “Mary” is honestly one of the best beats Curren$y has ever rapped over, and he does an admirable job. However, for those interested in more standard Curren$y tracks, check out “Purple Haze”, “Living For the City”, and “Sixteen Switches Part Two”.

New Jet City is one of Curren$y’s best releases to date. It doesn’t add a whole lot new to Spitta’s arsinal. It doesn’t bring rap into a brand new dimension. But there’s no denying that New Jet City is one of the most relaxed, chill, and fun releases in a while. Curren$y has been doing this style of music for a while, but New Jet City compacts the whole experience and focuses on the best parts of all of his past tapes. However, if you enjoy New Jet City, I highly suggest looking into Curren$y’s back catalog. He is one of the best rappers in the game today, and you can get most of his music for free.

Long Live A$AP

long live asap

Rap artists nowadays seem like stars before they release a single song, let alone an entire album. With all the hype that surrounds the “new great rapper”, it would be understandable for those more jaded rap fans to be sick of hearing about the “next big thing”. But I don’t really care about the jaded rap fans. A$AP Rocky is the next big thing, and if his first album is any indication, he is here to stay.

The first time we heard Rocky was on Life.Love.A$AP., a great mixtape that had such good production, such good rapping, and such great songs, that it felt like a bona-fide album. The mixtape featured the producer Clams Casino, (who formally only created beats for artists like Lil B and Soulja Boy) making some of the best beats of the year. The mixtape even had a hit in “Peso”. After the mixtape dropped,  Rocky was quickly scooped up by RCA to the tune of 3 million dollars. All of this lead to people claiming that A$AP’s new (and first) album would transform rap and be an instant success.

Now that’s a lot of pressure, especially for a young, 24 year old rapper. Yet with Long Live A$AP, Rocky has most certainly lived up to it.  Unlike Life.Love.A$AP., Rocky’s debut album relies much less heavily on Clams Casino. In fact, the beats on Long Live A$AP are much more varied and diverse than those on his mixtape. Instead of the hazy, relaxed, Houston Trill oriented beats Rocky used to depend on, producers such as Lord Flacko, Hit-Boy, and yes, even Skrillex, bring a much more eclectic mix to the table. That being said, it is the Houston oriented beats that A$AP does his best with. “LVL”, “Pain”, and “Suddenly” find A$AP at his most comfortable.

That being said, A$AP Rocky is great even when he’s not comfortable. “F***in’ Problems” finds Rocky in a track with 2 Chainz, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar, a place where Rocky needs to bring his best to still be relevant. Yet that track is one of the best on the album, and is a whole lot of fun. A song with A$AP Rocky and Skrillex sounds like a terrible idea right? Well on Long Live A$AP, the two gel to form one of the best songs on the album. Skrillex is much less ADD than normal, providing an actual melodic beat for Rocky to rhyme over. That’s just the kind of album Long Live A$AP is. Everything seems to go right, and the results are spectacular.

On the song “LVL” Rocky has a line that is indicative of his rap style: “This is boom-bap mixed with new raps”. A$AP is constantly in the business of reminding you that he is a member of what he and many others prefer to describe as the “new-school” of rappers. If you are unaware who these rappers are, than look no further than A$AP’s own “1 Train”,  a song that features no less than 6 other rappers, all of them big young rappers who will eventually become the new rap main-stream. Artists like Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson drop some of their best verses of their careers on this track, and it becomes a short of showcase for the youngsters.

Now to be fair, Long Live A$AP does have its flaws. There are a few filler tracks, including the title track, that just feel under-performed. One of the standout tracks on Life.Love.A$AP, “Brand New Guy”, had an amazing cameo from rapper Schoolboy Q. On Long Live A$AP he is featured again on “PMW” with much shoddier results. Yet over all, Long Live A$AP is an outstanding freshman album, and finds the self-proclaimed leader of the new school  dominating other, older rappers. I look forward to seeing more from A$AP Rocky in the years to come.

King Animal

 

Soundgarden’s new album King Animal is a blast from the past. From the first few chords of “Been Away Too Long”, you feel like you’re back in 1991, jamming to grunge music while sipping your Starbucks coffee in your plaid shirt. In Soundgarden’s first disc in 16 years, the Seattle based band whisk their music back into their glory days of the early 90’s effortlessly. The result is a refreshing and fun reboot of grunge rock.

What can I say? The old guys do metal best.

 

Soundgarden has always gone the way of Chris Cornell. When he is doing his best, it sounds like Robert Plant was born again in Seattle. But when he tries to take too much control over the band or his singing, it has almost always imploded. Cornell is the one who messed things up in the first place, when he insisted the band change up their sound for their 1996 album Down on the Upside. The band used a considerable amount of acoustic sounds, and generally went away from the heavy metal thunder they were producing earlier in their career. And then their was Cornell’s most recent album. Scream, his take on metal produced by Timbaland, was quite honestly  the biggest piece of crap I’ve ever had the displeasure of listening to.

Seriously, its really bad.

Luckily, things are quite different on Animal King. Cornell takes a minimalists amount of control over what the rest of the band attempts to do, and the result is the heaviest album Chris Cornell has been a part of in years. The singer is in rare form, belting out heavy sounding jams the way he did when Kurt Cobain was still alive. On “Taree”, Cornell provides his best vocal performance in years, sounding amazing, yet still providing plenty of room for the heavy riff. Which brings me to the best part of Animal King. These are some of the heaviest songs I’ve ever heard all year. In the middle of the album, there is a three song collection that could out-heavy any other album this year. “Blood on the Valley Floor”, “Bones of Birds”, and “Taree”, all are some of the hardest rocking songs the band has ever recorded, period. “Blood on the Valley Floor” especially, has one of the best riffs in a Soundgarden song ever.

Old dude + Fedora = Badass

King Animal is essentially a reboot of the Soundgarden legacy. Its the band’s best album since Superunknown, and is one of the best albums in the year in my opinion. King Animal is heavy, bad-ass, but most importantly, fun. You can tell on songs like “Halfway There” and “On Crooked Steps” that this is the most fun the band has had in years, and it makes for a very awesome listen. The album is grunge without the depression, and in the end its one of the best albums to come out from a grunge band in a while.