higher ground

snoop dogg brought weed rapping to my consciousness. he was constantly referencing his love for green trees. the luniz “put 5 on it”, which became one of the most recognizable weed anthems of all time. it’s nothing new for hiphop artists to site a smoke session as inspiration for some of their most creative moments. rappers today don’t claim to smoke for flashes of creativity, they smoke because it’s a natural part of life. it’s a defining characteristic for dudes like wiz khalifa, currensy, and harlem’s smoke dza.

this week, after a string of amusing mixtapes, dza released rolling stoned. i have to admit, if you can see beyond the weed talk and there’s plenty of it, you’ll recognize this guy has some authentic nyc talent peeking through. his flow reminds me of camp lo, a group whose clever style and throwback edge brought them mild main stream success and a cult following behind the banger “luchini (this is it)”. dza boasts over stellar beats and strong guest appearances, making rolling stoned a solid effort, but something is missing.

at times dza tears through his verse and leaves us wanting more. there seems to be a bit more style than substance sprinkled throughout the albums 13 tracks. compton’s heavyweight indie-knockout artist kendrick lamar flat-out steals the show on “ball game”, while the strongest effort on the record is dza and currensy’s spaced out “personal party”. next time dza needs to write more verses and put the guest tracks in the vault because i want to see where he can go when it’s just him and a mic. as for rolling stoned, it’s made for exactly that. it’s hiphop for the headies, no beasters for smoke dza. that’s not his style at all.


bet the house

23-year-old clams casino, real name mike volpe, struck gold the old-fashioned way. myspace. (name) jokes aside, this kid is the brain behind some of the most spooky, sonically trippy electronic music on the internet today. i don’t love lil’ b, in fact i think he’s terrible in almost every way. his saving grace is often his instrumentals, and a few of b’s most memorable beats including “i’m god” and “motivation” have come courtesy of mr. clams casino.

clams hails from northern new jersey and makes beats like a guitarist creates a wall of sound. he layers his effects, one on top of another resulting in a whirlwind of noise that somehow makes sense in a beautiful sort of way. i hear the moody side of dj shadow mixed with the savy of today’s hiphop climate. even though clams music is packed full of samples, it sounds sparse and at times simplistic. “i’m god” and “motivation” are gorgeous beats. i can’t imagine what they would have sounded like if a true rhyme spitter had gotten their hands on them before lil’ b. even better is the fact that these beats stand alone, without any mc at all.

clams latest project is an instrumental record called rainforest ep. it’s a sonic blast of creativity, great for headphones or drives alone. find it, download it, buy it.  something tells me clams casino will be in high demand behind the boards any day now.

there goes the neighborhood

you’re on to something when you make music that feels dangerous, unpredictable and a little bit reckless. four teens from copenhagen calling themselves iceage have written a record that blurs genre lines by combining the spastic, nervous heartbeat of hardcore with the middle-finger flair and energy of punk rock. punk music used to be the only way i could make sense of things. the blast, the chaos…it was part of my daily diet of sound. i’m older now, slowing down and my punk diet has been cautiously trimmed. i’m proud to say i’ve used all my punk points this week on iceage’s tremendous debut, new brigade.

i don’t give a shit which way the hype machine drags these guys. some sites are calling iceage the “new face” of hardcore music. others are calling them fascist and racist because of some pictures one of the band members drew for a zine and the silly get ups they wear in the video for the single “new brigade”. again, i don’t care who says what, i say what i say based purely on the sound that comes from the speakers. it’s total cacophony. and i love it.

do they sound at times a little refused? maybe. fucked up? a little bit. there’s plenty of comparisons to make, but i’ll leave that up to you. instead, check out the pure energy these lads pump throughout the twelve songs on their debut. it feels like each one is a complete testament to youth, confusion and the joyous revelation that part of being young and naive is not understanding the mess of a world around us. i don’t know if new brigade will end up on the fancy “year-end” lists, but take it for what it is. it’s a blistering, vibrant sound-off from a band just poking their head out of the water. scary what album two might sound like.

One word. Nasty

in 2 weeks i’m headed to governor’s island in nyc to catch the 2011 rock the bells festival. those who know me, know that live music is my favorite thing in the entire world. i’d take it over good food, expensive drink, material things…it makes me truly happy. for me, rock the bells is going to be the mecca of live events. in one day i plan to watch random axe, black moon, souls of mischief, gza, mobb deep, cypress hill, rae and ghost, erykah badu and the master mc, the most important lyricist in hip hop, nasir jones.

i’ve been an obsessive nas fan from the very first time i came across illmatic. i started listening to hip hop in the 5th grade. being young and interested in following trends, i was wowed by young mc, mc hammer, vanilla ice and kriss kross but that bubble gum sound didn’t cut it. i had to have more. i started, as a 6th grader, doing my homework. my walkman became my method of studying. the juice soundtrack. 36 chambers. the chronic. mad skillz. milkbone. rakim. nas. these were the sounds that completely dominated my youth.

to me, nas has always represented the epitome of the lyrical mc. he’s a master story teller. he put queens on his back and carried the authentic east-coast, new york sound. his records often follow a theme or message, and it’s evident that what’s most important to nas is the craft of being an mc. take his “hits” as examples. “if i ruled the world” may have sounded radio friendly and gorgeous thanks to the soulful hook by ms. lauryn hill, but what’s he saying? listen to that track. nas is painting a picture of how trapped he felt by the injustices he witnessed on a daily basis. “it ain’t hard to tell”, which cleverly flipped michael jackson’s “human nature”, was nas’s second single and further proved that his wordplay was his weapon. nas has shown album after album that as long as you stay true to hip hop and show a love for substance over style, you can survive in a fickle game where fashion trends and dances often trump skill.

his upcoming 10th studio album life is good is titled to remind us that once in a while we must slow down and recognize our blessings. nas won’t reinvent himself on this record because he doesn’t have to. instead, he’ll move forward without forcing the issue or falling victim to the common cliches of today’s hip hop. on september 3rd as i watch nas perform illmatic in its entirety, backed by dj premier, it won’t be hard to tell that life is in fact quite good.

(another) new disaster

life was very different six years ago, wasn’t it? graduate school. smaller apartments. daily booze. terrible desk job. things were not entirely awful, yet hardly the type of days to write home about. it’s been six years since i am the avalanche released their fantastic self-titled debut, and just like the rest of us, things are quite different for these brooklyn boys.

i am the avalanche is fronted by ex-movielife leadman vinnie caruana. he’s handles the vocal duties and the occasional guitar part, adding a third guitar to i am the avalanches assault. if you’re familiar with the movielife, you’re familiar with their high energy melodic punk, which sounds like a mix of the bouncing souls and smoke or fire. i am the avalanche definitely has that same power and aggression, but they aren’t the movielife version 2.0. often, i am the avalanche slows it down showcase a fleshed out, more developed structure to the music. songs like “wasted” and “clean up” reveal a far more introspective lyricist than we heard with the movielife. other times, i am the avalanche lets it rip, reminding us that there are different voices trapped inside us. i am the avalanche is the sound of growing up, which can be expected from a leadman who has seen his share of ups and downs.

this october will see the release of avalanche united, i am the avalanche’s second full length record. it was written in the wake of a failed marriage while navigating the twists and turns of adulthood. in some way, we can all relate. starting october 6th, the band will head out on a national headlining tour with bayside and saves the day to spread the word. the first single, “holy fuck” is an anthem to standing up and fighting back. i love it.

a different type of service

we do it because it makes us feel good.  does it really matter what the “it” is?  fill in the blank, you get the point.  for a band bringing their “it” to our world is a craps shoot, sometimes the sound resonates and other times musicians must face a fearful fact; their disc may find a home at the bottom of the dollar bin.  today i bring you army navy.  they’re straight from the city of angels, and their “it” is full of brainy energy and drenched in the chic glow of the california sun.

army navy are a full on collision of hooky rock vocals and slick guitars in the vein of the promise ring and the get up kids.  comparisons aside, army navy carry themselves like the purveyors of indie-rock that’s stripped of pretension.  a hard feat since army navy is both from LA and considered an “indie” band, two tags that normally cause me to roll my eyes and toss the disc aside.  no can do.  their new record the last place is the best summer-bummer record of the year.

there’s nothing particularly massive about army navy, and that’s their saving grace. the songs are ironic and playful without being confusing.  army navy quenches my thirst for both the smiths and nada surf all at once.  tall order?  maybe, but their record speaks for itself.  lyrically, the record is actually a downer, but who can tell with all that shimmer and shine?

something out of nothing

grieves. born in chicago, raised in colorado, representing seattle. this guy brings a little something to the mic from each of those stops on the map, serving us up with a slice of confessional rap that’s equal parts honest and humble, but never scared. i have to admit, the album name together/apart and a few internet searches left me feeling that i was in for some sort of emo/backpacking/cryfest from a white kid who loved hip hop and figured out how to throw a few clever bars together. i was wrong. together/apart is the sound of an mc just beginning to find his way through his craft and life.

grieves is a bit of a chameleon. he can croon if he wants to, or he can flat out tell a story. either way, he does it without the pretense or the “white rapper” stigma of loving college or trapping his wife in the trunk. he spits a little like asher in the way they both combine skill with subjects that are familiar and realistic. yet his personal touch is more in line with slug and brother ali, fitting since grieves finds himself on his grind for rhymesayers entertainment.

here’s to hoping rhymesayers provides the exposure grieves will need in order to earn a few bucks and stop from city to city with a mic and a few boxes of tee shirts. this kid has the type of sound crowds will come to hear because they can relate to what he’s saying and how he’s saying it. i’ve always believed that real life and rap is a guaranteed mixture for success and grieves is well on his way.

for those of us who can relate…