The Road Less Traveled

Rick Ross doesn’t seem overly concerned with the plight of the working man.  He hustled hard and that grind has paid off as he sits atop the game, surrounded by the finest things under the Miami sun.  Ross reached insane heights on the strength of his savvy and knowledge of the fickle, trend-heavy game.   Like any successful mogul, he surrounded himself with a collection of young, hungry soldiers including Wale, Meek Mill and Stalley who would rally to extend his brand.  The Maybach Music Group is concerned with ruling the charts, one show and one artist at a time.

The Rick Ross blueprint for success aside, it’s hard to calculate the process that landed Massillon, Ohio’s Stalley with the MMG crew.  At times, Stalley’s blue-collar poetics couldn’t land further from the pulse of mainstream hip hop.  His open-book approach would leave other mc’s vulnerable, but Stalley uses that personal reach to strengthen the connection between him and his listener.  The hat full of pins.  The wizard beard.  The soft speak.  Stalley is not your average hip hop persona.  Each verse, each bar, each song reveals the man behind the music, and that’s uncommon in hip hop today.  Many artists build walls of hype then crash and burn when their human side is revealed.  Stalley’s music is built on the premise that we are all on the come up, searching for that tiny slice of the pie where vulnerability is a part of the fabric that holds us in place.

Last year’s Lincoln Way Nights put Stalley in the limelight.  The project was re-mastered and re-released under the MMG tag and bolstered by a Ross feature on the excellent “Shop” remix and video.  Stalley was officially on the map.  His web assault included a series of singles, Songs by Me, Stalley, which featured the stellar “BCGMMG” and “Cash and My Cutty”.  March 30th saw the release of Stalley’s most ambitious and rewarding project to date,  Savage Journey To The American Dream.

Savage Journey begs the listener to utilize these fourteen songs as a framework for examining and determining their own quest for understanding.  What is it we’re looking for?  How are we going to get there?  What’s the motivation to move in the direction of happiness?  Not light material by any means, but it’s real, and that’s the beauty in Stalley’s work.  There’s no filler.  No bullshit.  No pretense.  It’s music for the people, and the people are just like you and me.

The Bruce Springsteen of rap.


It Was Written

Copywrite doesn’t give a shit what you think.  In fact, he probably likes it better when you hate, or at least doubt him.  That’s just more fuel for the fire.  He seems to channel that hate directly through his bars, delivering venomous punch lines by the handful.

Copy, from Columbus, Ohio, has been dropping solid records with his MegaHertz crew for years backed by top-notch production from RJD2, Jake One and the beat genius himself, J Dilla.  His short-lived feud with Asher Roth came and went, as did his full lengths The High Exhaulted and The Life and Time Of Peter Nelson.  Last month saw the release of the stellar God Save T.H.E King, the album that makes the strongest case for Copywrite’s claim that he truly is one of the best at it.

There’s a hint of Atmosphere’s Slug in Copy’s delivery, but that’s only evident in the songs where pain is at the forefront.  Most of this record is spent doubling and tripling up his syllables in a dizzying lyrical onslaught, that at times reminds me of the legendary Rakim.  See for yourself.

What’s a Boy to Do?

The Lawrence Arms.  The Falcon.  Playing bass.  Singing songs.  Brendan Kelly does it all, and does it pretty well.  Recently, Kelly admitted during the past few years he’d “played punk rock as well as he was able to do it”.  A nod towards a new sound?  Then in a blink, he served up I’d Rather Die Than Live Forever, the debut LP from Brendan Kelly and The Wandering Birds.

It’s not your typical punk record.  It’s all over the map, stylistically and lyrically.  It’s a dark, humorously violent soundtrack for some sort of blacked out snuff film.  And that’s not to discredit it as a joke.  It’s a strange, rambling diary that feels trapped, scared and bent into some oddly uncompromising positions.  But none of it feels phoned in one bit.

Eleven songs stretch a tad over thirty excellent minutes.  It sounds like Social D fist fighting with the Stones in a basement-turned studio someplace far away.  Just a room full of instruments, a few bottles of booze and a tape recorder.   Don’t leave until you get your fill.

Formerly The Future

The future is a hefty tag to carry…so we won’t head in that direction.  Instead, we’ll say Worcester, Massachusetts MC Joyner Lucas (former Future Joyner) has unlimited potential.  One spin of his track “Words With Friends” and the doubt should subside.  His clever attack reminds me of Harlem’s finest, Big L.

Last May saw the release of Listen To Me, a solid tape under the Future Joyner moniker.  There’s plenty of quality production throughout, but what carries the project is the heavy word play.  Lucas isn’t concerned with flash and filler, he’d rather take up space with truckloads of flat-out skill.

‘Words With Friends” takes us inside the studio, post name change.  His boys toss out words and Lucas runs with them.  It’s that type of verbal dexterity that’s been missing from hip hop lately.  The song comes from the upcoming LFOs project, set to release this summer.  There’s a few minutes of no-nonsense mc’ing here…plug in and listen up.

Caring Is Still Creepy

Albuquerque, New Mexico’s The Shins dropped onto my radar around a time in my life when Zach Braff’s, Garden State, “spoke” to me.  The quarter-life crisis agenda rang a bell during my basement apartment days.  What can I say?  Call it what you want; pop, indie rock, rock and roll…lead man James Mercer has a definite knack for the squeaky clean hook.

Although the band has been a revolving door for almost as long as they’ve existed, Mercer has always kept the basics in tact. Port Of Morrow is the next piece of Mercer’s geeky puzzle.  As usual the hooks are hum-worthy and the production is gorgeously bright.  Mercer’s conscious effort to push the sonic envelope makes each Shins record a tireless ride.  “It’s Only Life” and “Fall Of ’82” are lazy and fantastic, while the lead single “Simple Song” is one of the finest in Mercer’s catalog.

My new sleep time record, for sure.  Click play and relax for a few minutes.

Growing Pains

Pittsburgh’s Wiz Khalifa hasn’t played by the rules this past year.  He isn’t cranking out mixtapes, he’s not popping up on bad reality TV and he hasn’t rushed a second record to please the pressed suits and skirts at his label.  Instead, there have been tours, festival appearances and thousands of joints rolled and sparked to mark the time.

Feedback from 2011’s Rolling Papers was less than positive.  Critics called it pop rap, fans claimed Wiz “sold out”, all while selling almost 800,000 copies since last March.  I liked the record.  It wasn’t what I expected, but this isn’t Mozart.  Wiz set his personal bar when he dropped Kush and Orange Juice in 2010.  Fans who were looking for a sequel weren’t floored by Papers, and they shouldn’t have been.

Last week saw the web release of Taylor Allerdice, Wiz’s return to true form.  This tape picks up where Kush and OJ left off.  The beats are heavy and lazy, the subject matter is all green bills and green trees, and the confidence is on another level.  Progression is sometimes harder to see in rappers with a “niche” like Wiz, but he’s honing his craft, and it’s fun to hear.  This was the right release on the heels of his sophomore record.  The pressure may be on to deliver, but he’ll never show it….


Heart Shaped Slop

Dylan Baldi is from Cleveland.  He’s the brains behind Cloud Nothings.  One of my favorite bands, Signals Midwest, is also from Cleveland.  Ever been there?  There’s about three blocks of shit to do…and that includes the bars.  No wonder the kids find the amps and guitars and crank them up to twenty.  Like Signals Midwest, Cloud Nothings is a band that understands the influence of noise.

Attack On Memory is their first as full-fledged band and pairs them with sound guru Steve Albini.  Noise is certainly not a problem here.  It’s so perfectly scattered all over that I can’t turn it off.  Baldi’s nasally growl reveals hints of Kurt Cobain’s mean streak blended with the whiskey scrape of Deer Tick’s John McCauley.  At times the music bounces and jams like Sonic Youth or Built To Spill, but if you stick around long enough the teeth sharpen and you’re covered in the stench of teen spirit. The whole thing doesn’t land not too far from Shellac, Albini’s band from the 90’s.

This is my favorite record of 2012…so far.   I can only imagine where this would have gone if it was stretched over 12 or 13 tracks.  These songs seem to expand and develop a bit more with each listen.  Take your time with this one.