Hip Hop’s Big Week

Commercial hip hop had a big week here in September recently. Not that this is surprising. For as long as I can remember now, Hip Hop has pretty much dominated a large part of the record release calender. This is only news worthy in the fact that this week I fell head first into it and bought four CD’s on major labels. Why? Because I got swept away in the hype. Three of the four albums I bought on any other week were albums I would have very little interest in. But what can I say. Sometimes, as a music connoisseur, I buy shit I don’t necessarily need. I really should work at trying to get promo’s of shit. But since the whole journalism thing is going to hell, thanks in no small part to bullshit blogs such as the one you are reading now, I doubt Warner, Universal and the like are gonna be hooking me up any time soon.

So this week were gonna try something different. Two of these albums I would actually recommend. Two I think are full of a lot of hype, but ultimately short on substance. So were gonna play a game called “What You Bought/ What You Should Have Bought”. Here we go.

Kid Cudi –
Man on the Moon:The End of Day
Dream On/G.O.O.D Music/Universal

Kid Cudi got some hype off of one song “Day n Nite” that came out on a mix tape last year. Most of the Mix Tape is not that good, but this track does properly showcase that this kid does have some skills. So when this record dropped I decided to see what a budget and the Kanye West seal of approval (which I disapprove of) did. What we have is mostly a lopsided, but lush, emotional soul journey with some pretty bad side steps.

Kid Cudi may be the first black “emo” rapper. A label often tossed at a lot of white indie rappers these days, it’s as bad for hip hop as it was for rock music. And normally I wouldn’t sink so low, but this is a hip hop album replete with Kid Cudi’s personal diary entries it seems. He is sad, he gets stoned, he feels alone and he likes to fuck women. The proper opener “Soundtrack to My Life”, the second song on the record opens with the wonderful line “I got 99 Problems and they all bitches”. Great. Kanye West’s 808’s and Heartbreak introduced the public to a sad sack lamenting about his women problems, his money and his heartbreak. Kid Cudi took this idea and ran with it. The effects are often cringe worthy.

Musically, the album is pretty chill. And with the consistent references to getting high (were not complaining here) people will be lighting up to this album on many a late nights. It’s appropriate. The track “Solo Dolo (Nightmare)”, a song where Cudi laments how he’s an outsider, has a nice beat constructed out of orchestral sounds. It’s subtle, soft and striking. The whoa is me trip our man is on doesn’t sound quite so self serving here. In fact if most of the album was more outstanding maybe I wouldn’t be so harsh. But listening to grown men cry is a hard pill to swallow. Especially when they have songs on there record like “Make Her Say”. This is a song so terribly out of place on this album it’s begs many questions. A radio hit that perhaps his career in the short term couldn’t resist to pass on, but in the long run seriously detracts from the overall quality album. It is simply a song about getting head from women. A trite and overdone topic in hip hop. King asshole Kanye West throws down a typical verse that only makes me wonder when the fuck that man child is going to grow the fuck up. And yes Common, well he shows his true colors. Way to go man. Finding Forever wasn’t enough of a sell out, you had to write the line “You say be on that conscious tip/get your head right and get on this conscious dick”? Really? Needless to say this well produced, head nodding hit leaves anyone older then 17 with any sense of the world cringing.

The song ruins an interesting, well produced album that otherwise does put Kid Cudi on the map. But no matter how good the songs are, the repetitive nature of Kid Cudi’s lonely nights is mostly depressing. At no point does he frame it in any kind of universal mode. He’s sad, yes, but why? We all have our demons, we all have our fears, we’ve all been scared. Emotional health is a worthy topic, but Cuddi fails to be effective with his poetry. The music is often good enough to overshadow this, but I’m not looking to this guy to change major label hip hop.

Q-TipKamaal the Abstract
Jive Records

If you want to see hip hop change, then you need to look no further then this album. Shelved years ago by his record label, Kamaal the Abstract was just one of several projects the mighty Q-Tip worked on that got lost in major label bullshit. One comment I read on an interview Q-Tip begged the questions of why didn’t Q drop records on some indie’s? And this album, had it had it’s proper due back when he made it, may have been perfect for such a label. But even that would be a hard sell.

Kamaal the Absract is first and foremost an artist’s album. Q-Tip simply made this record for his own sanity. There is no question about it. While he burns the mic when he steps up to it, this is a record about music, not about hip hop, not about dope rhymes and sick lines. Q-Tip wanted to step away from that game in 2002. Seeing as he had made a career out of positive, booty shaking hip hop records since he was a teenager, it’s not hard to see a grown up Kamaal Fareed want to make his own record. There is no doubt that is exactly what he did.

This is not an easy album by any means. It’s a jazz influenced record that sounds unreal. The production is spot on, with a warm, full drum sound that I have yet to hear anywhere. The record is smooth, but the guitar chords are powerful, resonating. The bass jumps out and shakes you at the foundation. Q-Tip was not messing around when he made this album. And right away, “Feelin'” shows a direction Q-Tip would eventually get to showcase on The Renaissance and album he recorded nearly six years later. In fact, with how good The Renaissance was, it’s only natural to be curious about the other lost Q-Tip projects.

But as I said, Kamaal Fareed really owns this album. Q-Tip shows up often at the front end of the track and drops his signature smooth lyrical magic. But afterwords the music takes center stage. I can only think about Travis Morrison, the former Dismemberment Plan front man who released Travistan to much public confusion. I can only wonder what people would have thought of Kaamal the Abstract had it been released in 2002. Q-Tip went on a public musical journey asking for trust from the audience as they experimented with their sound and voice. Would this record have been a success had it been released when it was made? It’s hard to say. It’s easy to see though, how it might have made a lot of people scratch there heads.

The album is after all out there. A lot of press around the record, much of it from Q-Tip himself compares it in part to Andree 3000’s The Love Below. Andree’s half of an Outkast double album that was filled with prince references and way out trippy jams.
But Andre’s album felt more like an homage to his influences, wearing them brightly on his sleeves then an attempt to find himself. Andre made a record in spite of hip-hop, Kamaal the Abstract was made instead of a hip hop album.

The record doesn’t feel completely fleshed out and I think could have done with more structure. Like I said, Q-Tip comes out on almost every track blazing the microphone with more intensity then I’ve ever heard from him. But he drops the microphone on all the tracks. The music is strong, but it lacks purpose a lot of times. All that said, it’s a fantastic record and as a long time fan I am glad to see it has a proper release. It’s loose, relaxed feel is a comfortable, flavorful and all around worthwhile experience.

What You Bought
Jay-Z –
The Blueprint 3

I don’t really like Jay-Z. In fact I will say that the two Jay-Z albums worth owning have little to do with him. One is MTV Unplugged, a record he made with the Roots that, in my mind anyway, made Jay-Z actually seem viable. This was after listening to Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life in college over and over and over again. It was an album I did not like, but could not stop listening to. The other album of his, that can hardly be attributed to him really is The Grey Album, Dangermouse’s mash up record combining samples from the Beatles’ The White Album with Hova’s The Black Album. Where the latter just seemed mostly a boring excursion in hip hop production The Grey Album made me like the Beatles and Jigga at the same time. Hardly a small feat if I may say so.

So why do I check back in with Jay-Z now? I can’t really say with any concrete ideas. Even after reading Chris Richard’s review in the Washington Post, I was still somehow intrigued. Maybe it was the cover art, a white painted shit pile of instruments that caught me. I can’t say I am not a sucker for good album art. So I bought the album.

It starts out pretty strong. “Death of Auto Tune (D.O.A)” to me is one of Hova’s most insightful tracks I have ever heard. I’ve never felt he was leading hip-hop, at least not to somewhere I was ever interested in following it. “Only rapper to rewrite history without a pen” is allegedly his call to his free style skills, but Jay-Z has always been to precise for that, and this is the one time his OCD like delivery rains supreme. When he calls out “Nigger just get violent, this is death of auto tune, moment of silence” I am happily watching the trend of robot vocals die quickly. He is the CEO, he said so.

Following this song is “Run This Town” which opens with a sick intro by Rihanna. Frankly if more of this album was like this. I’d be totally hooked. Not even Kanye with his self loathing yet boastful verse can sink his well produced ship. Kanye, stay behind the console. You actually made me think Jay-Z had some fucking amazing skills.

From there, the album already starts to sink. By the sixth track he’s got Young Jeezy who I can’t fucking take. The song it self makes it difficult to absorb the rest of the album, cluttered with too many guests and not enough good ideas. Like every other album I’ve ever head by HOV The Blueprint 3 has a few big thrillers and shit ton of overbearing filler.

In the beginning Jigga What brags about outselling Elvis Presley. And thank goodness for that. I’ve never been a huge fan of the raps or the albums, but the persona has always struck me. He states he’s outsold everyone but the Beatles. And chances are he won’t stop until he takes that title. But will Jay ever out sell the Beatles? It’s less likely after their reissue project hit the shelves the same week. But we are still in that era of super stardom. Jay-Z has turned that game on it’s head. Maybe he redefined it during the Mop Top era, but he hasn’t made millions jump ship, though I wish he had, personally.

What You Should Have Bought
Raekwon –
Only Built for Cuban Linx…II

Wu Tang Clan is the other great dynasty of New York. If Jay-Z is Coca Cola, Wu-Tang has to be Pepsi. I’ve always felt they were something of their own world, their own universe even. It’s like hip hop in one sense, but mostly whatever Wu does belongs completely to them. Hit or Miss, there is nothing like an album from a member or satellite rapper of The Wu Tang Clan.

For that Raekwon has received his fair share of limelight. His first solo album Only Built for Cuban Linx is considered one of the top three solo outings of any Wu Tang member by many critics. And certainly I hope one day someone writes a long ass book about the Wu Tang universe. If I had the patience and had I jumped on the solo album game a lot longer ago I would tackle that, because Raekwon’s position in that universe I think is crucial.

Only Built for Cuban Linx…II is years and years in the making. The master tapes being passed around from producer to producer, label to label. There is a yo mamma joke in there somewhere. But in the end we get a classic Wu Tang album, on par with Enter the Wu and Forever. This is what Raekwon is mostly known for, being most true to the classic Wu Tang sound while delivering mafioso inspired lyrics. Look no further.

What is most striking in fact about this album is how classic Wu it sounds considering there are no less than 12 producers over 22 tracks. Most striking to me are the J Dilla produced tracks. Dude is best known for his work with Tribe and Q-Tip and before he passed he gave The Chef three dark and brooding tracks to lay verse over. The results of our man Raekwon working with so many different people keeps a thick album interesting. It’s also fairly clear that Raekwon knew what he wanted and was able to extract it from many talented producers.

The Wu Tang Clan needs another critical hit record. Sure they have sold a mighty few albums in their time, but it’s been a while since the hype machine has rallied around one of their member’s albums. Raekwon delivers what is needed, perhaps unexpectedly but none the less done. Sometimes you want hip hop to reinvent itself. It seems the most malleable musical genre ever as it pulls from so many different sources for it’s inspiration and musical back drop. Only Built for Cuban Linx…II doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it reminds us of why we love The Wu Tang Clan and it’s many personalities. That in it self is worth writing to moms about.

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