Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Album Review: Drake - Thank Me Later

"You say you like it like dat, I think I like it too, 
half a million in a week it's only right I do"
The most common question I get from friends and family of mine (many of whom don’t listen to Hip Hop) has been who my favorite artist is? Like any self respecting Hip Hop blogger, there is never a clear cut answer to that question because truthfully we follow so many different artists that catch our attention, the question is almost as difficult as a parent answering the question “Which one of your kids is your favorite?”. Obviously that comparison is a gross overstatement, but it was intended to make a clear point about Hip Hop bloggers like me. We all have the unique intrinsic motivation to share in addition to a healthy enough ego to assume people will care about our opinions of what we think about new music that is coming out. Deep down we strive to be musical opinion leaders and generally speaking, the best bloggers end up writing about and ultimately sharing what we deem quality Hip Hop...or at least noteworthy Hip Hop. Keeping that in mind, when I answer the cliché question of who my favorite artist is, I usually give a group of current artists that make enough quality music that they deserve to be placed on a pedestal. A group that (to me) includes but is not always limited to names like Kid Cudi, Bun-B, B.O.B., Crooked I, The Cool Kids and Drake.

Over the past year, if you’ve paid any attention to this blog or have been a subscriber to my monthly song list I send out to people around the US, you’ve probably figured out that Drake has become my favorite artist. Even though it’s become more than cliché to jump on the Drake bandwagon over the past year ("even though the bandwagon is full you can try and run behind it"), I feel like I was on the wagon before it had wheels (see the May 2009 GWDJ Song List when I rated many of the tracks off So Far Gone). Brace yourself, below is a long-winded explanation of how I feel about his new album Thank Me Later and why I have a heightened appreciation for his music compared to all other artists out right now. I spent a lot of time on this because a lot of his music has hit me on a real level, so I feel like I need to return the favor by letting you all know why he shit at times moves me.

If you’ve paid any attention to the buzz surrounding Drake’s new album Thank Me Later, you may wonder what exactly endears him to fans/listeners more than any new artist that has dropped a debut album in the past 20 years (debatably)? In my opinion, it’s a complex mix of his abilities and personality that has created his irresistibly likable style. His ability to be lyrically transparent and emotionally accessible while using intelligent, creative wordplay that is communicated with a clear, easily understood delivery is the reason why so many of his listeners not only really enjoy his music, but they admire him. I can’t remember the last time an artist was able to garner so much universal fandom and buzz leading up to a debut album and appealing to such a wide demographic by creating a very listenable (I hate using the word Pop, it’s become too cliché) mix of Hip Hop and R&B.

Prior to launching a career in music, he was known as Jimmy from Degrassi where he’d been acting since the age of 16. As a result, he’s used to the limelight, which has allowed him to grow up quicker than most 23 year olds ("I keep thinking young can you die from old age” - Light Up). For example, you don’t hear too many guys (especially Hip Hop artists) his age turning their nose up at beer, always opting for wine (“Am I the only 23 year old wine connoisseur?” - You Know You Know). You don’t hear other artists his age talking about how unfulfilling it is to hook up with groupies and "gassing" women up, looking instead for a grown woman who is driven and can relate to him intellectually ("women learn to love an honest man, I'm not going to sell you a dream, this is me"). You don’t see Hip Hop artists voicing their insecurities and personal thoughts that go through normal people’s head, it’s simply not Hip Hop to be so wide open ("What if I don't do the numbers they predict, considerin' the fact I'm the one that they just picked" - 9 AM in Dallas). Hip Hop culture has traditionally been all about being in control and never showing the vulnerable side that every person possesses, opting instead for the arrogant, “cool talk” that often demeans women and exhibits the hubris and unrelenting braggadocio that acts as body armor impervious to any lyrical threat or attack.

Having an inimitable career path and being a fearless grown up in a 23 year old’s body has allowed Drake to turn his unique own blend of Hip Hop/R&B into a successful 462k first week debut. What we as an audience learned from his So Far Gone mixtape is that his music should not be taken at face value. His lyrics are meticulously conceived (on his Blackberry no less) and reach a higher intellectual level than most Hip Hop, which is why people who only give his music one listen a lot of the time are missing the punchline of the joke. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m the worst at prematurely dismissing music that doesn’t immediately appeal to me on first listen. I get caught up in my own ego, believing that my skill in discovering and writing about new music is refined enough that after one listen I can usually tell whether I will like it or not. Drake was the exception to that as I was initially not thrilled by much of what he put out.

That all changed when I gave Successful more than one listen. Soon after I gave his whole mixtape a listen and his single Best I Ever Had caught fire on the radio. By then I was knee deep in all of his tracks (Best I Ever Had wasn’t even close to my favorite track on So Far Gone, see November 18th), taking a liking to his lyrical creativity that was uniquely vulnerable, but was still delivered with a the confident, audacious demeanor that all Hip Hop greats exhibit.

The main difference between So Far Gone and Thank Me Later is the amount of original content. Much of So Far Gone was filled with freestyles over other artists’ beats, while Thank Me Later is all original beats, mainly from his team of producers Noah “40” Shebib and Boi-1da. Objectively speaking, as a whole, Thank Me Later is more of an artistic compilation or concerted effort to create a cohesively themed album. The end result of the extra effort to create everything from scratch may be the reason why a lot of his fans are still becoming acclimated with his more original style and sound on his new album. In other words if you were expecting to get another album that sounded like So Far Gone, you were probably disappointed by Thank Me Later. Considering the insurmountable pressure and expectations surrounding this album, it was to be expected that fans would need to temper their expectations and comparisons to the well known mixtape or else they would end up killing the momentum of one of their favorite new artists. After a solid month of listening to Thank Me Later and two concerts witnessing new tracks, I feel like I’m finally prepared to make judgments and give opinions about an album that was meant to be listened more than a few times before deciding its fate, hence the title Thank Me Later.

On first listen, I liked Thank Me Later more than So Far Gone. Does that mean I’ll end up liking Thank Me Later more than So Far Gone? Probably not, but that’s more of a testament to how long it took me to appreciate his now legendary mixtape. Off top, starting with Fireworks, he quickly jumps onto a new train of thought that shows his transition into dealing with success wondering aloud “Money just changed everything, I wonder how life without it would go?” He continues on the second verse to touch on his brief quasi relationship with Rihanna and finishes the track touching on how his success has affected his family and shaped his search to find love. It’s as if he’s having an epiphany in realizing what his recurring dream finally means in front of our eyes. Alicia definitely adds to the introspective vibe of the track by providing a picturesque hook, opening the door for an emotionally wide open album.
Continuing on with a grown and sexy track Karaoke where Drake takes us on a personal relationship journey that ended as the woman he was after moved to Atlanta, afraid of taking the chance of pursuing something with him. Real sentimental track that while risky, endears him to his fans for his real life honesty.

If you held a gun to my head and made me pick a favorite off Thank Me Later, track 3, The Resistance, would be my favorite. It’s about as close as you’re going to get to a sequel to his track Successful, as he’s now experienced the success he initially craved and is now dealing with it. I say dealing with it because like anyone who has become a star, they have to listen to people say “You promised me you would never change” when they no longer have the same time to hang out. Questioning “when he started treating his friends different” is a thought process that a normal Hip Hop artist wouldn’t let us in on, it’s too honest. In choosing to embrace the chaos by saying “You can tell by looking in my eyes right now, cause we’re just having the time of our lives right now” he’s brushing off those who don’t understand (the haters), trying to insinuate that it's nothing personal. An overlooked artistic touch is the final line, “Ain’t no turning back for me I’m in it til it’s over” that leads into his hit Over. Nice touch and seamless transition from my favorite track to your most popular track.

I’ve alluded to many people being initially lukewarm to Over, but that’s mostly because of the crazy expectations that over-hype created. As time goes on and people forget about all the hype of it being the lead single, Over will end up being a great song I feel like. Maybe my opinion has been skewed by witnessing the raw energy of him closing all of his shows by performing by song, but it’s a true Hip Hop track that possesses so much vitality, it’s hard not to get hype listening to it.

After Over, Drake continues the feel good vibe on Show Me a Good Time, a stress relief anthem encouraging listeners to “take a shot and let it out, let’s get right, now that I’m here baby, show me a good time”. To each their own, if there were to be considered a track that I consistently skip over, this would be one of the two tracks. That isn’t to say it won’t be someone else’s favorite track on the album, the vibe is positive, just not my favorite.

The energy on track 5 was saved for his potential single with Nicki Minaj, Up All Night. There is quite a bit of chemistry between the two on every song they do together and this is evidence of that. One of the few fast paced tracks on the album, it provides a break between a lot of the slow R&B tracks and slower Hip Hop tracks.
Air Drizzy

The next five tracks are where Drake truly hits his stride, starting with Fancy. Drake and T.I's verses are on point over a Swizz Beat, but the true show stopped is Drake's final verse on the track, which is one of the top 5 verses on the album:
"Uh, 5 and a half in boys
Ass is off the hook
Cinderella bout to lose the glass off her foot
And when I find it is when I find you
And we can do the things we never got the time to
Better late than never
But never late is better
They tell me time is money, well we’ll spend it together
I’m down for whatever
You just lead the way
We go to dinner you don’t even look at me to pay
Mature women with more than me were the first to tempt me
And Jason had this girl Tammy with a purple Bentley
How she got it I aint never get to ask
I just knew that she was fine like a ticket on the dash
Yeah, but shout out to the homeowners
The girls that got diplomas
And enough money to loan us a little something extra
Should we ever need it
If it sounds like you then let me hear you repeat it"
Absolutely on point and despite slowing it down a bit on Shut it Down with The Dream, Drake absolutely shines in his own way. I can't think of any other artist that can drop a line like "put those f-cking heels on and work it girl, let that mirror show you what your doing" and have it come off as sincere and melodic. Again, he ends the song with a top 5 verse on the album with:
"Shooting Stars all around her, fire, comets.
I could bring her through and shut them down, Onyx
No, you’re not imagining, they’re looking at you long stares
Even though she’s standing out she looks like she belongs here
You feel the hours pass, until you find somethin’
I feel like when she moves – the time doesn’t
Yeah, baby you finer than your fine cousin
And your cousin fine, but she don’t have my heart beating in double time
You just shut it down, girl
Who told the cops where the party was?
Why do I feel like I found The One?
What’s in these shots that you ordered us?
Damn. I mean you sure know how to paint a town
Ever since you came around its obvious you shut it down"
The wordplay and imagery exude such powerfully meaningful emotion...I couldn't help by rewind that one a few times. And the irony is, just when I thought it couldn't get better he drops the best verse on the album on his next track Unforgettable.
"Yo, this is really one of my dumbest flows ever
I haven’t slept in days,
And me and my latest girl agreed to go our seperate ways, so I’m single
Thinking about what we had and missing you,
But I ain’t Santa, I got something for these bad bitches too
I mean paparazzi on me, trying not to get called out
They always seem to catch me with the women that I brought out
Baby, don’t hold on too long ’cause thats how them stories start out,
And all those girls that played me eat your muthaf-ckin heart out, it’s Drizzy
Always gone but never hard to find
And since you can’t escape me, do I ever cross your mind?
Because all this sh-t is new to me, I’m learning to behave,
And still spending every dollar they encourage me to save, but I’m good
I know that n-ggas would kill for this lifestyle,
I’m looking forward to the memories of right now
Never forgettin’ from where I came,
And no matter where I’m headed, I promise to stay the same"
From the santa line, to him talking ish to all the girls who did him wrong, to finally wrapping up the verse critiquing the way he's dealing with success, yet still doesn't lose perspective as he gives some food for thought with the "I’m looking forward to the memories of right now" line. I really do hope he keeps his promise of not changing no matter where he goes because right now his verses provide a lot of creative food for thought that dominates the thought processes of over-analyzers like me on a daily basis. Being able to subtly drop lines that make you think and appreciate life in a different way with words is a true skill and a big reason why I enjoy Drake's music so much. No disrespect to Jeezy, but this track would have been classic if we would have gotten another verse out of Drake rather than hearing you singing and a little out of your element.

Songs 10 and 11 are probably going to dominate the favorites lists of most Drake fans. I don't think I've fully gotten a chance to determine and appreciate the scope of the outside-the-box, out of the ordinary 32 bar verses (rather than the typical "Hot 16") that Drake and Jay-Z drop on their first big collaboration, Light Up. The "no hook" style adds to the legendary status of the track and it's another track that will probably gain popularity as Drake's career gains some longevity. Similarly, his track with Lil Wayne on Miss Me is a no-brainer stand out track. The laid back, at times silly but with plenty of well crafted wordplay to spare verses by both Drake and Lil Wayne are awesome, but it really makes me mad that this sort of chemistry couldn't have produced one or two more tracks on Thank Me Later (due to Weezy's incarceration). Still laugh every time I hear Weezy's lyric "I walk soft, so I don't piss the ground off"...not sure why that stuck with me, but to me it was really funny...for some reason.
Cece's Interlude is another artistic effort by Drake to show us his talent as a singer, which is good because we will get a better picture of what to expect, but it's probably going to get skipped over by a lot of fans (me included). Not a big fan of interludes (unless they are really funny). Find Your Love is doing some damage on radio and a great single choice (obviously) with the Kanye beat and catchy, repeatable hook. It's hard to turn off when it comes on, but like every track that radio gets a hold of, it takes away from the luster. Still a great track though. The album ends with somewhat of a whimper with Thank Me Now, which is only the 2nd track on the whole album I frequently skip. The second verse is growing on me the more I listen to it because of the candid demeanor and humble honesty, ending the album with:
"And I know life is just a game in which the cards are facing down
I’m in the world where things are taken, never given
How long they choose to love you will never be your decision
And I’m aware this could be the last time you listen
So while I’m still in this postion…you can thank me now"
As an aside, I still feel like his 9 AM in Dallas freestyle is the most underrated element of his album as a bonus track. I bet he worked on that freestyle 10 times less than any track he did on this album, but that's probably what makes it the best. It's a fast paced, witty assault on people who doubt him and the energy he brings to the track is living proof. Great Great Great track all things considered and an end of the album treat for unsuspecting listeners.

GWDJ Verdict: All in all, I'd say Drake's debut album Thank Me Later deserves a 4 headphone grade.

It's a different style we're used to hearing from him, which isn't a bad thing at all, it just adds to his depth as an artist. Parts of Thank Me Later that really make him stand out are the parts where he shows his more accessible/vulnerable, human side like:
“I heard they just moved my grandmother to a nursing home and I be acting like I don’t know how to work a phone” (The Resistance)
“I’m just such a gentleman you should give it up for me, look at how I’m placing all my napkins and my cutlery” (Fireworks)
“How many of our parents marriages lasted, I was only 5 I bet I barely reacted” (Fireworks)
“Don’t be fooled by the money, I’m still just young and unlucky, I’m surprised you couldn’t tell” (Karaoke)
“Never forgetting from where I came and no matter where I’m headed I promise to stay the same” (Unforgettable)
Some of his fans have bought into only the “Hip Hop” tracks where he mainly raps and talks about the finer things that come out of being rich and successful (Money to Blow, Forever, Miss Me). While those tracks are also some of my favorites, I also enjoy his slower R&B tracks (Sooner Than Later, Shut it Down, Brand New) and my absolute favorite type of tracks from him are his freestyles (9 AM in Dallas, King Leon, Say What’s Real). I feel like he’s at his best going bar for bar, giving us a dose of whatever is on his mind through his own creative wordplay. The “shit he writes while staring out the window of a plane” is what the fans crave and he knows that. On his 9 AM in Dallas freestyles he yells: “People say that old Drake we started to miss it, But they need to be a little more specific, Is this what y’all want?!” Yes it is partly what we want and the fact that you know we want it will always allow you to be a step ahead of us and give you the opportunity to take whatever risks you want because we will always listen.

In the XXL magazine I bought last month, Drake tried to put things in perspective wondering aloud:
"I'm one of the biggest rappers in the world, but this is my first album, and I haven't proved myself yet, so on what mind level do me and a listener meet?"
My answer to that is you have to start somewhere, establish a foundation. So Far Gone was a highlight reel, while Thank Me Later was the real Drake. Selling over half a million records in one week means that we like the real you Drake, so don't stop doing what you're doing. Keep being yourself, it's refreshing to the music industry as your style is a truly honest breath of fresh air. You don't hide behind anything and the fact that we can see you and feel like we know you through your music is what makes you special. The ballsy effort on your first album did not go unnoticed and having put a months worth of mileage on your new album, I feel like I appreciate it enough to Thank You Now.

As a bonus check out Drake's cameo verse on Jeezy's new track Lose My Mind.

Bonus: Young Jeezy feat Drake - Lose My Mind (remix)
|Link taken down by request please go to iTunes to purchase

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

“Love is Evol, Spell it Backwards, I’ll Show Ya”

"I’m a space bound rocketship and your hearts the moon
And I’m aiming right at you, right at you
250 thousand miles on a clear night in June
And I’m aiming right at you, right at you, right at you"
I’ll admit on the first few listens of the album, I passed over this track dismissively, opting for the flashier tracks with in your face production. After a few listens, it's ended up being one of my favorite tracks off Recovery. Pretty crazy that after one week it's being projected as selling just under 754k...which is a little less than twice what Drake's Thank Me Later sold. 

It isn’t like Marshall to show us his vulnerable side where he openly speaks about needing and missing someone like he does on Space Bound. Now before you think this is some kumbaya track about him being desperate for someone, hold up, because even at his most vulnerable Eminem still lashes out threateningly, protecting himself from hurt….hurt that has been all too real before for him previously, so much that it’s a build in defense mechanism and all too often the subject matter of his music. Now that he's off the drugs, he’s gotten back on the storytelling track and is back to feeling comfortable being lyrically real, giving us a more honest, wide open and transparent view of how he really feels. It's a non-stop double edged sword and I can only imagine just how classic his music may become if he can conquer that rage. Who knows though maybe that lit fuse inside of him is what makes him tick and relate-able to so many people who internalize the anger hit erupts with on tracks like this. 

Shouts out to Jim Jonsin who subtly samples the acoustics on R.E.M.'s song Drive (below) from their 1992 album Automatic for the People:

Unlike a lot of his sampling, this one sneaks under the radar quite a bit and comes off a little more original, which is different, but cool. In other words you wouldn't listen to this and say, "yep that definitely sounds like something he's produced." Smart move to take somewhat of a backseat to a legend, especially on such an emotionally transparent track like this one.

Despite picking the “lonely road”, Em is able to once again (think Eminem Show) coherently portray both sides of his struggle, the good and the bad, the part of him that craves to be whole again, but threatens with consequences the ones who he chooses to let in. It's been a while since we've heard Em scream heartfelt lyrics like on the bridge below:
“And I would have done anything for you,
To show you how much I adored you,
But it’s over now,
It’s too late to say bye, love,
Just promise me you’ll think of me
everytime you look up in the sky and see a star because
I’m a spacebound rocketship..."
The hook on this track is so far from anything you’d expect from Eminem, which is why I liked this track so much. The schizophrenic roller coaster of emotion draws you in, but it has a soft enough vibe to reel in the chaos, giving way to the acoustic backdrop like a pulsing star in space. No doubt in my mind Recovery is and will continue to be regarded as a classic album, but I'll save the reasoning for the album review.

For now just accept this is one man's opinion why Eminem is back atop the Hip Hop game he left 8 years ago...

Eminem feat - Space Bound (prod by Jim Jonsin)
Links taken down by request, go here to purchase at iTunes store

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sample Justice? Nicki Minaj - Your Love vs Annie Lennox - No More I Love You's

Seems like everyone is buying in on the investment that is the new black barbie, Nicki Minaj. In the latest XXL Diddy pretty much confirms the rumor that he's going to start representing Nicki calling her "One of the great ones". Add to that the close proximity to Lil Wayne and Drake on Young Money and you've got a rising star that is ascending to the top of an already depleted female representation in Hip Hop.

On this track, Nicki tackles a relatively well known Annie Lennox track from 1995 off her Medusa album. You may recognize the well known "Do be do be do do do oh". Give it a listen, you'll recognize it

Annie Lennox - No More I Love You's

When sampling any oldie, there's always a risk that is involved because there really is nothing worse than messing up a cover or sample of a well known song. You just come off as trying too hard and seem desperate if you don't pull it off, so it's always a gamble. Luckily, for Nicki, she teamed up with Papa Justifi of the well-known production crew the Knightwritaz who didn't do too much when sampling the track. He borrowed the most distinct part of the track, looping the "Do be do be do do do oh" over a bouncy beat that Nicki manages (no pun intended) to pull off both singing and rapping over. The whole reggae dialect she brings is being widely embraced of late with artists like Sean Kingston and IYAZ bringing it back to the limelight of pop music. It fits in well with the laid back, soft feel of the sample on her version.

All in all, I'd say Nicki didn't screw it up, she took a well known piece of something old and molded it into something listen-able to a new generation. Hopefully Annie doesn't mind her borrowing the track and increasing her pop culture relevance. It'll never happen, but I think it would be pretty cool to see them both perform a mash up of this. Can never go wrong when artists from different generations embrace change and are willing to meet half way in a collaboration with a newer artist. I don't like Nicki's version better than Annie's classic version, but I respect her version because it wasn't too contrived.

Give it a listen and you be the judge...good lookin' out Ginesy...

Nicki Minaj - Your Love (prod by Papa Justifi of the Knightwritaz)
| Download

Saturday, June 26, 2010

New Artist Spotlight: Diggy Simmons

So remember that kid on Run's House? No not, the older one JoJo, the sorta soft spoken one that was only like 10 years old when the show debuted in 2005? The one whose father was the good Reverend of Hip Hop who helped pave the way for Hip Hop in the 1980s with Run D.M.C..

Well it seems that kid, Daniel Dwayne Simmons, better known as Diggy is taking after his father in more than one way, going from an innocent kid in a reality show to a kid now who has 150,000+ twitter followers. Let's run off a list of recent accomplishments, the first being a full length mixtape titled The First Flight, which dropped back in December (2009) and led to a bidding war over his skills before he landed at Atlantic Records in March. Check out the mixtape here...
Wasting absolutely no time in getting on his grind, he also announced in December that he was releasing his own clothing line in fall 2010 called Chivalrous Culture. Check out a few sneak peaks from his new line.Trying to follow in the footsteps of his idol Pharrell Williams, he's aspiring to be more than just a Hip Hop act, he strives to be an icon. I just hope the line he develops is just as fresh as BBC, Pharrell's line, but less pricey...damn tees $90, thats harsh, it's expensive bein' cool.

Amidst the bidding war, he hit the gas pedal on a few freestyles, the most notable being over Nas's - Made You Look beat where he absolutely kills the much that Nas felt inclined to offer his endorsement by telling Vibe magazine:
“I couldn’t believe it,” and “I don’t think we’ve seen that in hip-hop yet—he’s nice and his father’s the king? That’s historic, bro. That shit is incredible. That little dude is nice.”
Damn, must be nice to kill a Rap legend on his own beat and have him endorse you afterward. You be the judge..

That freestyle had the internet buzzing for quite a while, but Diggy has stayed on his grizzly by releasing his first single this month off his new mixtape Airborne called Great Expectations, featuring one of my favorite producers/artists Bei Maejor (still haven't gotten sick of Drunk in the Club by the way). Hands down his best track to date, he exhibits a polished skill in his verses that only a son of a legend could pull off. The track fits perfectly with his whole "about to take off" vibe he's got going with his music, so much so the song takes on a real inspirational undertone. Despite Em and Drake's albums dropping in the past month, this song was in my Top 5 tracks of May. Give it a listen...

Diggy Simmons feat Bei Maejor - Great Expectations
| Download

Furthermore, he dropped an absolute heat rock on us with the marching band feel on his new track What They Been Waiting For. You wanna talk about a head nodding, uptempo track to vibe to, this one hits the spot. Anybody else think this is kind of amazing the skill he's bringing to these tracks at the age of 15? The flow is stoopid...on every track with energy to spare on every verse. Kinda nuts, check the video out and hit the drop to cop it..

Diggy Simmons - What They Been Waiting For
| Download

Oh yea I forgot to mention, he's also a member of the All City Chess Club with the likes of Asher Roth, B.O.B., The Cool Kids, Charles Hamilton, Wale Lupe Fiasco, Blu, and J. Cole. Seems like we're only beginning to fully realize the potential that he's already fulfilling with each track he puts out. Stay tuned for Airborne...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Texas Stand UP!..."Yea Jack I'm a Gang-sta, Gang-sta, Gang-sta, G-A-N-G-S-T-A"

When I think about Texas Hip Hop, this is exactly the type of sound that I expect to hear and look forward to hearing. The big bass, slow rhythm, exaggerated Southern drawl, laid back hook. It all sounds so good when played loudly or doing my favorite parking lot activity, the classy, pop-trunk wave. Oh you don't have a slow-mo open/close function on your trunk to share your secondhand Rap with the whole block???? #gitwititoryagetgone

In all seriousness though, the pop-trunk wave needs to make it out of Texas and become part of mainstream Hip Hop culture. Think about it, if you pulled up to a stoplight and the driver in front of you started slowly waving his trunk at you, you'd be pretty entertained right? It would definitely break up the monotony that is daily traffic.

Anyways, this is supposed to be off Slim Thug's upcoming album, The Thug Show, due out September 7th. While Texas Hip Hop rarely makes it to the mainstream due to it's increasingly loud, boisterous, hardcore sound, I'd recommend the likes of unheralded rappers like Trae and Z-Ro. They do a good job of furthering the sound the DJ Screw started back in the 1990s. All contribute to the SLAB (Slow Loud and Bangin) culture that involves decking out cars with extravagant lighting, speakers, rims, basically dressing it up to look really gaudy. Do a search for SLAB on YouTube, it's pretty crazy what cool stuff people are doing/have done to their cars these days.

Be sure and drive real slow and turn this one up for the desired effect...repeat to audible tolerance...

Slim Thug feat Z-Ro - Gangsta
| Download

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Throwback Thurs: "I Was Young, I Was Surviving the Times, Waitin' For My Moment I Was Destined to Shine"

A little strange that this classic Nas track never made it on the album prior to the Greatest Hits album, released in 2007. Says Nas about the track:
"Actually, I had it done a good while ago. I forgot I had the record. It was just perfect to go with the Greatest Hits. It just came from a conversation. I needed people around to remind me of certain things that happened, so I got a lot of information from somebody that was hanging around while I was in the studio. It's crazy, because when I talk about people from a whole other rap era, I don't know if people understand how much that meant to me, just coming up around legends like Kool G Rap and Eric B and Large Professor and people like Akinyele who was around in the early stages that I met through Large Professor from a rap group named Main Source that most cats today never even heard of."
I feel like this track was extremely appropriate given the context of Hip Hop and the stages it has went through. Nas touches on the feeling of disconnect that a lot of different generations have with the previous style/generation and how he deeply revered the lyricists he grew up watching...the artists who shaped the type of rapper he became. He also vents on the track about how he was spurned by Def Jam and signed with Columbia Records to craft one of the truly classic Hip Hop albums in Illmatic. Music aside, I believe in two saying that although cliche, are also a reason why artists and people gain respect in life.
1. If you forget where you came from, you're never gonna get to where you're goin'
2. Respect those who came before you because they probably know more than you and can teach you a few things
And that's what Nas did, he respected who he learned from and created his own path based on the skills he learned, never losing track of his QB roots. Sidebar: I've got a lot of sympathy for Nas man, he went through hell with that Kelis divorce, having to now pay $51,000 in child support PER MONTH...seriously Kelis? Last I heard you had a paying job?

Even better, the intro takes a classic sample by Nipsey Russell from The Wiz, a classic adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. Extremely fitting for the context that Nas uses this sample, wondering "What he would do to survive the times". Gotta love the soul from the sample, not many Hip Hop artists can pull off a jazzy sample like this. Check the original...

Like everything else this week, I'm going to related this back to Drake because if you read the fine print on the inside of his CD, he makes a point on the start of the second page to thank Nasir Jones for "inspiring my whole mindset on this album (Thank Me Later)".
This ties into the whole respect for the elders and let's be honest, it's hard to find a more mature artist than Drake at the age of 23. Brings to mind a verse off his track You Know You Know, which didn't make the cut to Thank Me Later. Drake says:
Why has every woman never dined her before?
Am I the only 23 year old wine connoisseur?
The Rothschild’s, the Cru’s, the ‘Caias and the Opuses [wine brands]
Its always nice when youre out with someone that notices
Not too much of a surprise Drizzy managed to sell 462,989 in the first week, which was only 13k away from Blueprint 3. While those who predicted a million in the first week are disappointed, he's still #1 by a LOT this week and if the hype couldn't have been any bigger, so he was a victim of expectations. Thank Me Later review to follow in the next week...

Anyways, went on some crazy tangents there, but still you can't discount the way that the truly great artists are great in part because they respect the game and the pioneers who beat the path they are able to freely walk down now. Cheers Nas, you were one of those and this is definitely one of my top 5 favorite songs of yours.

Give it a listen...

Nas - Surviving the Times
| Download

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Buzz Track: A.O.N. - Story Book

I've been getting a lot of positive feedback about A.O.N. from people around the country who subscribe to my Monthly Song List. They've given an emphatic thumbs up to his first two tracks I've shared with them, the increasingly popular summertime jam My Girl with IYAZ and his new single Doin' It Big.

What strikes me about these new tracks I'm hearing from the 16 year old Ambitious or Nothing is the consistency of what he's been putting out of late. The past three tracks I've posted about don't sound like your half ass'd run of the mill mixtape tracks. These are the tracks and singles that sell albums and get you on the radio and introduces to pop culture. In my last Drake post I touched on just how long it usually takes to be "heard by the masses", with it taking Drake at least 3-4 years before his sound caught on. Rarely are there ever any overnight stars made in music, it really is a long term investment and grind in making it big, which is why anybody who has made it professionally in anything from sports to music, I have an immense respect for. Having played D1 collegiate baseball and having been on the doorstep of the next level with many friends at that level, I have a respect for those who made it.

How does this relate to A.O.N. you may wonder? For his age, he's ahead of the curve when it comes to being accustomed to making quality music. He's got a laid back flow that compliments his upbeat sound that blends well with the beats he's rhyming over. He tells stories and his verses are creative and engaging. Add to that a little edge in some of his lyrics and an easily understood delivery, it allows his music to be repeated by listeners, which is crucial for creating a radio/pop culture buzz.

Doin' it Big hasn't finished it's run as his current single (see photoshoot), but when it does, it will give way to a fun, easygoing, head nodding track called Story Book. The Lupe in his delivery comes out in this track, going bar for bar effortlessly until the verses give way to the hook that adds to the radio appeal...
I'm your good night dream,
No more nightmares
I'm a good night dreams
I dunno about you, but the three tracks I've posted by A.O.N. are now in heavy rotation this summer in my playlists. My Girl and Story Book are great choices for summer release singles, they play well at parties/windows down because of the upbeat, positive sound.

Give his upcoming single a listen...

A.O.N. - Story Book
| Download

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"If I Could Write You a Song To Make You...Fall In Love"

Truth be told, I've been jammin' out to this new Mikey Posner joint for a couple months now, only to find out it's spreading like a wildfire on radio stations everywhere. When I have people who I don't usually provide music for coming up to me saying, "hey do you have that new Cooler Than Me song by I dunno who, but do you know what I'm talking about?", you know it's officially permeated the pop culture barrier.

Did I see that one coming? Not one bit, I mean I really like the song and Mike Posner is a really talented artist, who has been under the radar for a while and has received beaming endorsements from my Chi-town friends who are quick to point out how good of a performer he is. In fact, I remember hyping an artist named Na Palm who was opening for Mike Posner about a month ago. For all of you in the Chicago area who missed that concert you're probably kicking yourself because similarly, 2AM Club's Worry About You has blown up all over radio stations and Posner, Napalm and 2AM Club were all on the ticket.

This whole Hip Hop/Electro movement that mainstream radio has deemed "in" right now is a trend I hope continues for quite a while. Between this, the influence of David Guetta, Crookers, LCD Soundsystem (see newest Kid Cudi sample), MGMT, Ratatat, even DJ Class who is injecting techno/dance into Hip's coming from all angles geared toward upbeat dance music.

For all of you who aren't very familiar with Mike Posner, go ahead and check out both of his mixtapes he released, One Foot Out the Door and A Matter of Time. In the video below Mike speaks about his upcoming album 35 Minutes to Takeoff due out second week of August, which coincidentally is 35 minutes long and "at the end of the 35 minutes he's going to be at a different spot (career wise)".

Real soft spoken, animated dude who has that subtle confidence in the video above that makes me believe he's going to make a splash with this new album. Guess we'll see once August comes around, enjoy the remix...

Mike Posner - Cooler Than Me (Gigamesh Remix)
| Download

BONUS: Already done a New Artist Spotlight on Napalm, so I'd be remiss if I didn't include the official remix that he donated a verse on. Give it a listen...

Mike Posner feat Napalm - Cooler Than Me (Remix)
| Download

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Most Vicious F Word in the Dictionary

We've all heard it at some point in our lives from someone we deeply care about and despite the good intentions of the person saying it, the F work can be the most painful work in the dictionary. Now before you go assuming the word I'm talking about rhymes with any combination of truck, trucking or trucked, you're misinformed, that word is usually intended to be a relief or intentionally hurtful. It's the F word that isn't meant to be intentionally hurtful that wreaks the most havoc because you would honestly rather be called a mothertrucking witch or ?sshole than this word when the person delivering the blow sheepishly proposes becoming the F word, which as kindhearted as it is intended to be, turns into the most degrading relationship proposition imaginable.

If you haven't figured it out yet, or scrolled down to see the song title, the F word I'm talking about is the word friend. The dictionary definition of friend is as follows:
friend (noun) - 1. A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.
friend (verb) - (sadly this is now an alternate definition...smh)
1. To add (someone) as a friend on a social networking website.
Now if I were to get the opportunity to amend the dictionary definition to include an alternate, more real life use of the word, my definition would be as follows:
friend (noun) - a person with whom you used to be in a relationship with and trust that now only likes you enough to offer a compensatory, contrived offering of distanced companionship in a last ditch effort to make you feel less hurt seconds after removing your once beating heart from your chest
Hopefully that wasn't too graphic for the kids frequenting my blog (yea right), but I suppose they need to learn at some point because the double edged sword that is the word friend is unforgiving and deceiving in it's double meaning. Oh what's that wanna be player in the back who is trying to act hard like this has never happened to him? You've never caught a touchdown pass with two feet in friendzone (respect the NFL rules)?? Not my fault you settle for insecure, fat girls/guys, reach higher dude/woman. If you haven't heard the phrase "I think we should just be friends" or at least attempted to out-punt your coverage only to shank it into the stands 10 yards down the field, you need to stop settling for that net 30 yd punt...dudes in the NFL college get cut for that kind of effort.

Now that I've gotten that spiteful, but fulfilling rant of my chest, let's focus forward on the ballad at hand by IYAZ, who, by the way keeps putting out hit after hit if you haven't noticed. It would be hard to argue that JR Rotem's influence on IYAZ's hits hasn't been the primary fuel behind his splash into mainstream music, but IYAZ still has to delivery the catchy hooks and execute verses, so more power to him. Add this to the two aforementioned tracks, plus his upcoming single So Big (that I'm also a big fan of) and you've got yourself 4 legit hits on a debut album, which is almost unheard of.

Everyone knows someone who is an absolute lock for being a perennial All-Pro Wide Receiver for catching TD's in the friendzone (I see you Kman!), but needless to say, regardless of man or woman being effected, it's never fun to hear about or watch the catches (especially if they are in slow-mo). On a funny note, I found a message board conversation that discussed the friendzone topic that is absolutely hilarious (see here). The most accurate quote I saw on the whole post was "Yea, (the friend zone) is real, but there's nothing a little alcohol can't fix." For all you visual learners, here's another artist's rendition of the friendzone with a cameo from Mario:
Then, in case there are folks reading this who are wanting to get out of the friendzone, here is an artist's rendition of how to get out of the friendzone and into the greener pasture that is a (supposedly) a relationship:
Even I don't even have the audacity to take credit for coming up with something that nerdy, creative and absolutely hilarious, thank yab. I think IYAZ summarizes it best on the hook by saying:
Oh no you didnt just call me friend
Oh no I must be hearing things
You can call me wrong
You can call me right
But dont you call me friend tonight
IYAZ - Friend (prod by JR Rotem)
Cop it on iTunes

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Concert Review: Drake at Theater of the Living Arts in Philly

When I first saw that Drake was coming to perform at The Fillmore at Theater of The Living Arts (TLA) in Philly, there was no hesitation in buying tickets. I know you're probably thinking you've been jocking Drake since So Far Gone dropped, why wouldn't you buy tickets to see him if it was less than an hour away? Hear me out...

Having already seen him in concert about two months at Penn State, there was most likely going to be little or no set list changes and considering tickets sold out on Live Nation in less than a half hour, I'd have to StubHub the tickets. Obstacles aside, the clear upside to seeing him at TLA was that it would be a much smaller venue than Bryce Jordan Center and his album would be coming out the day before the concert on June 15th. After weighing the pros/cons for oh I dunno, the better part of a minute, I found tickets on StubHub for only $10 each than originally listed...sold!

Fast forward to the night of the concert, when I got off work at 6 pm an hour away from the concert for an 8 pm show. With the planning of an insurance agent, all possible risks for getting to the concert were accounted for well in advance like traffic, parking, the person you're going with taking forever to get ready (A+ job on that by the way TK, I was impressed). Even with a trip to Subway and a half hour journey to pick up the partner in crime, I was parked three blocks away from TLA (for only $7 which is good for South Street) and walking into the venue by 8:30 pm as the opening act was finishing up their set. Fortunately I had already seen K-OS and the Lights, so I didn't feel like it was the end of the world.

The first thing I immediately noticed was the old school theater-like setup of TLA, which was throwback as hell, but really really cool. I appreciated the multi-bars (one upstairs, one down), balcony seating with chairs and general wide openness of the venue despite only being able to hold a capacity of 810 people. I was anticipating a much smaller, jam packed concert experience, only to find out that even though I walked in about 45 mins before Drake came on, I was still able to get within maybe 15 feet of the stage (see below).
Unfortunately, being under 6 feet tall was a serious visual detriment to where I was standing in the pit, so there was a lot of going back and forth trying to decide whether it would be better to be closer and off center with the view slightly obstructed or about 30 feet farther from the stage, but with a straight on view and lots more personal space. The answer to that ended up being to start out up close and move back after a few songs, which ended up being a great decision because the view from 50 feet away, unobstructed was a lot better.

As 9:30 pm rolled around, the crowd was chalked full of energy and anticipation, so much so that after every song the DJ was playing before Drake's set, everyone had their cameras up ready for his entrance on stage. Never have I seen so many people at a show so eager to record an artist's every move on stage. It was alarming and incredibly clear just how big Drake has become and how much concertgoers (me included) value seeing him perform live. It's one thing to want to go see a artist and pay attention to their every move, it's another to want to capture every minute of an experience so that you can take it home and enjoy it again. Needless to say, I was not in the minority when trying to record bits an pieces to share.

In what ended up being my favorite part of the concert, Drake came out to his soon to be bonus track on Thank Me Later, 9 AM in Dallas. In the freestyle/song, Drake yells, "people say that old Drake we started to miss it,
but they need to be a little more specific, man is this what y’all want?
". The answer to that (emphatically) is YES!, it's these cohesive, transparent trains-of-thought turned creative, well delivered freestyles that endear you to much of your fan base. "These are my one St. Thomas flows...

Pretty cool how he cuts it off mid-verse and skips to "what if I don’t really do the numbers they predict" and ends with "I'll still be one of the greatest n**** I don't give a sh**". Whatever apprehension he had toward his June 15th debut album has clearly faded and been replaced by the confident swagger that we've come to know and appreciate through his music. Watching that video is living proof of how hype and genuinely excited everyone at TLA that night were to see Drizzy perform. And throughout the night, the energy didn't waiver a bit, even through the ballads, song after song was well received.

Soon after the intro, he took us on a quick So Far Gone tour where he hit on my personal favorite track, hands down, of all time, November 18th (still get goosebumps every time I watch this). Just somethin' about the proximity to DJ Screw and mixing screwed up Rap verses with R&B is incredibly fresh in what turned out to be a successful attempt to keyhole my musical tastes all in one track.

Appreciated his effort on this particular rendition of my favorite track, paying more attention to the harmony on the R&B verses and throwin' up his Philly set rather than repping Houston like he does on the original. Drake if you or anybody in your camp (Oliver, Niko, 40) ever reads this, you'd make this fan/pusher of your music happy if you did another screwed track/DJ Screw sample in the future. More people need to sample the legendary DJ Screw and none have pulled it off as well as you...#justsayin.

Going into the night I predicted that he would include some sort of special guest onstage that he has worked with. Seeing that Philly is a big city, I figured he could find a way to at least swing a Nicki Minaj or Trey Songz for a few tracks since the Jay-Z's and Kanye's were probably a little too ambitious. What we ended up getting was somewhere in between with Cash Money's own Baby showing up for Money to Blow and I'm Still Fly. Apologies for the lighting being a little intense on the video, but the audio is clear...

Similar to the first show, everyone in the crowd was singing word for word most of his older material and really digging all his cameo verses. After the tour around his mixtape, he slowed it down a bit and similar to the first show I saw, he picked out a beautiful woman in the crowd and slow danced with her. This time though, he gave a shout out to a few of his favorite upcoming artists (J Cole, Kid Cudi, Wale, Wiz Khalifa) and sent a sincere heartfelt thank you to the special girl you brought on stage before kissing her on both cheeks, then forehead, only to leave her hangin' on the last kiss?! Not gonna lie at first I thought you left her with an eskimo kiss, which woulda been equally as pimp...haha.

I was also glad to find out she was 19 years old, especially after seeing Drake freak out onstage because she looked a little young. Like he said, "that's a year past being legal" so permission was given to film away...haha.

As usual, curfew is 11 pm, so seeing that it was approaching 10:45PM and he hadn't yet played Over, the last song was no surprise. Tell you what, a whole lot of people were lukewarm of Over, but I promise, if you see it in concert, the energy Drake puts into absolutely rocking it out personally made me like the track that much more. As much as I want to post the video I took of it below, I feel like I've already posted a ton of videos to go along with my experience, so if you want to see it you can go to my YouTube channel and check it out (Click on the YouTube Videos button on the Wibiya bar at the bottom of this page). I also got a really well done version of his Lust for Life track as well as a clip of Find Your Love, which you should definitely check out.

Overall, I'd give the concert a solid A. It's probably the best Hip Hop concert I've seen to date, which isn't saying much since quality Hip Hop performances are few and far between. Still I don't want to discount how fun it was to watch Drake live the day after his new album dropped. There was a unique coincidence of wants between the crowd and him, with Drake wanting very badly to put on a show we wouldn't forget, matching the crowd's insatiable desire to experience his music firsthand. I've got a lot more opinions to share on Drake as an artist relating to his new album Thank Me Later, but you'll get a longwinded version of that sometime this next week as I finish it.

Do yourself a favor and go and cop Thank Me Later here, here or here. As much media as I share of his, I still feel like I owe it to him to support him in going platinum by buying a physical copy of his album to go along with the two concerts and Drake t-shirt I've invested in. Although he wants you to Thank him Later, go ahead and Thank him Now.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Asher Roth Takes Pride in a Positive G.R.I.N.D.

I don't know if you've been to Asher's website lately, but it's pretty freakin' cool. Very 3D, artsy, interactive and engaging, solid effort on that Asher. He's doing his own celebrity marketing by getting friends and celebrities alike to hold his mini-Asher Roth license plates in pics, like the one above with Ryan Leslie. Cool idea in my opinion...

Anyways, a whole lot of people enjoyed his newest mixtape, Seared Foie Gras W/ Quince & Cranberry because it was the last we had heard from him since he was snoozing in the Bread Aisle. While the tracks on that mixtape were pretty high quality like Muddy Swim Trunks, many fans of his tracks craved something original, something creative and song on his past album.

So patiently we waited for about a year until we hear finally that despite being out of the limelight, Asher has been on his G.R.I.N.D. or you could say he is G(etting) R(eady) I(t's) a N(ew) D(ay). Usually people don't like mixing politics and polarizing pop culture opinions with music (see Rage Against the Machine), but I feel like as long as it doesn't dominate the lyrics and remains mostly positive and constructive, I've got no problem with stating and backing up a strong opinion.

This one is less political as it is downright positive and inspirational. Yea it may come off as too sing-songy for hardcore Hip Hop heads, but give it a couple listens, you'll be better off. The repeatability of lyrics (hook especially) lends to the positive, upbeat rhythm of the track. It's a fast paced critique of the American work ethic and what we strive for as people, who get caught up in valuing money and sometimes lose perspective of the unbelievable gift we all have that is life. Without overtly stating, this song is a lyrically positive reinforcement of faith by Preacher Roth. The best part of the track without a doubt is his monologue at the end where he get's a little serious, but manages to come off extremely genuine and unrehearsed when he talks of believing in yourself and never giving up on the daily Grind and losing focus of how blessed you are...
"So it's not about fame and fortune,
It's about believing and believing in yourself,
And understanding that this life is, it's life,
It's liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,
And happiness is not about getting what you want all the time,
It's about loving what you have,
So get ready it's a new day"
As long as it's genuine and doesn't come off contrived, there is always a place for positive spirituality in music. Forget Hip Hop or Rock or Country, it doesn't matter what genre, if an artist can come off as real as Asher does in this track, I will always back positive tracks like this. It's a shame that (like Asher says below), it probably won't get the radio play it deserves "considering the positive undertones", but that isn't going to prevent me from sharing the hell out of it so that it can have the desired positive effect on the masses...

Even if life is working you over and you feel like you're losing the everyday G.R.I.N.D., you still have the right to have a positive outlook and although faith is oftentimes mixed with religion, it doesn't need to be. Faith to me is a word that means the refusal to panic or the ability to believe that good things will happen to you in life. If you feel panicked or believe someone is always out to get you, you're lacking faith and should listen to uplifting tracks like this more often.

I'll now climb down off my soap box and leave you alone to listen to some positively fresh new Asher Roth, who is one funny mofo and someone you should definitely follow on Twitter for some consistently entertaining quotes like this one he posted a few hours ago...

Asher Roth - G.R.I.N.D. (Get Ready It's a New Day)
| Link taken down, please go support Asher here

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