Identity Crisis

nytimes.com

A few years ago Earl Sweatshirt became an enigma.  As a member of the whirlwind Odd Future crew, he released a handful of shock value bars about rape and vomit, then vanished into the night.  Tyler, The Creator had finally struck gold.  The legend grew through the release of Earl, a mixtape showcasing the young spitter’s knack for piling on the syllables over dark, aired out production.  Once Earl’s mom sent him away for acting like a fool on YouTube, the rest simply unfolded.

Fast forward a few months, bypass the chatter, and Doris, Earl’s proper debut is here.  Is he comfortable settling?  Would he rather shine?  Or is he simply working to illuminate the wild-boy personality the world first met?  I can’t call it.  The standouts here don’t outweigh the filler, and the features never end.  The record feels cluttered and doesn’t give Earl a chance to breathe.  When on,  like the introspective “Chum”, the all-too-brief “Uncle Al” and “Hive”, he’s on fire, but too frequently he’s trading verses with guests who sound half-asleep and bored to death.

Don’t we all really want Earl to grab the mic and stand in the spotlight?  He’s the future of his oddly weak crew, and that pressure bubbles up all over Doris.  He needs to show out on a consistent basis, and strike before the fickle fans move on to the next big thing.

Montana State Of Mind

phoenixnewtimes.com

Cancelled tours. Two throat surgeries. More tabloid chatter than Lindsay Lohan. Even in the shadows, John Clayton Mayer’s last few years have managed to make headlines in the universe of useless pop culture. Meanwhile, he crafted two of the best records of his front-and-center career with 2012’s Born And Raised, and this month’s Paradise Valley.

Gone are his days of glimmering Abercrombie cool. There are no references to wonderland bodies, neon signs, or the father/daughter dynamic. Rather than wallow in the ageless pulp which dominated much of his earlier work, the new material faces mortality head on. Mayer understands that we’re not timeless vessels floating by on our boyish good looks. Paradise Valley is the sound of a quality songwriter growing older. The arrangements work, the lyrics are poignant without the pretentious twists of yesteryear, and the guitar playing is gorgeous, although more subtle than ever before.

It seems Mayer is finally interested in letting his art speak for him, nestling in somewhere between John Fogerty and James Taylor. And nobody’s mad at that. “Dear Marie” and “Who You Love” are crafted for nights around a fire, whether it be in your backyard, or burning in your ashtray. “Wildfire” once again teams Mayer with Frank Ocean, a pairing that is oddly organic. The slide on “You’re No One ’til Someone Lets You Down” is pitch perfect, and in his case, irony at its best.

Here’s to hoping it’s easy does it from here on out for John Mayer, it suits him.

Cellular Discretions

antiquiet.com

Alex Turner’s coming of age has been well documented.  As the front man for Sheffield, England’s Arctic Monkeys, he’s taken us from the grime of the pub floor in 2006’s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not to the trippy California sands of 2011’s Suck It And See.

AM is the Arctic Monkeys 5th studio record set to release in September.  I’m digging the first two singles.  This clip is for the ironic, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High”, and features Turner’s headspace after reaching the bottom of a bottle.  Here, sex is either a weapon or something his mind can’t do without.  AM is going to be a blast, keep your eyes peeled.

Trapping For Sport

thesource.com

I’m not a hater.  If I don’t like it, I don’t like it…plain and simple.  I can cop to being dismissive, which leads me to re-visit things I often pass over in haste.  But who am I to judge?  Look at the name of this site.  My mom always said, “people who live in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones”.  Well, here I was a few weeks back, way up in my ivory tower on Twitter lobbing rocks like slow pitch softball.  My target?  ASAP Ferg.  Honestly, “Work” wasn’t my favorite.  “Shabba” didn’t do it for me either.  Then it dawned on me.  I was suffering from acute Rosenbergitus.

Peter Rosenberg, of Hot 97 DJ fame, is somewhat of a hip hop elitist.  Rosenbergitus occurs when you’ve spent your entire life being a fan of the most relevant and continually evolving movement in musical history.  Beats, rhymes, and life.  The onset is tough.  You get comfortable, and complacent.  Your arguments always seem to involve Jay Z, Nas, and Eminem.  You wear the proverbial blinders and grant a pass to “new artists” that fit the mold created by greats like Premier, Pete Rock, and Dilla.  Symptoms of Rosenbergitus are obvious.   Vertebrae soreness from lugging your backpack around town.  Hives caused by the tap,tap,tap of a trap beat.  Night terrors involving images of Trinidad James’s teeth.  It’s overwhelming.

ASAP Ferg’s debut leaked a day ago, and I caved.  In treatment, they call this a break through.  Not only does Trap Lord deliver in a major way, it might be the record that has me on the road to recovery.  His style is more Cudi than Rocky, relying on a melodic sing-song delivery rather than beat you over the head with bar after bar.  I almost got pulled over I was rocking so hard to “Murda Something” in the car this morning… Coincidentally, that track is the only time I’ve EVER listened to an entire Waka verse.  I’m not happy about these transformations, but they’re important.  They may save my hip hop life.

Ferg is a product of the new era where “internet rap” reaches audiences from Brooklyn to Boise, Idaho.   These cats aren’t tied to a certain style, and merely defined by their generation.  The music I love is evolving, and I have to accept that.  There’s more to it these days than rappity ass raps and tried and true boom bap.  As a fan, you can either throw stones, or smile and nod to rhymes about Shabba’s gold tooth.  I feel liberated.  Thank you Trap Lord.

Dumbing It Down

joyfulnoiserecordings.com

Australian songwriter Adam Harding teams with Lou Barlow (Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr., Folk Implosion), Dale Crover (Melvins), Bobb Bruno (Best Coast), and others…and BOOM.  Old indie rock fans rejoice in the glorious noise.  Dumb Numbers came to be from a Harding/Barlow collaboration on a soundtrack cut a few years ago.  On August 6th, they finally put the pieces together to bring us Dumb Numbers on Joyful Noise Recordings.

The record is a hazy, buzzing disaster..and I can’t stop playing it.  There’s not a minute of down time when a network of talented friends with deep musical roots get together to cut a record like this.  It’s dialed in and loud as fuck.  I’ve gotten away from rock and roll a bit lately, and this one made me reach for a handful of records I’d basically forgotten.

Harding brings the semi-autobiographical last five years of his life to us via 9 oddball tracks worthy of spin after spin.  You can get the badass electric blue vinyl here http://www.joyfulnoiserecordings.com/dumb-numbers-st.html. The disc is available through the site and digitally on iTunes etc.  Enjoy.

Honest Weight

rap-up.com

I’ve been fascinated with Stalley since his MadStalley tape a while back.  The Ohio-born ball player, turned Brooklyn rapper story sounded like an after school special, and I bought in.  His music spoke loudly, in a unique voice fixated on the joys and struggles of our crazy world.  Each project shed light on a man who wasn’t content to wiggle down the formulaic hip hop rabbit hole lined with money, cash, and hoes.  Sure, braggadocio is part and parcel of being in the rap game, but Stalley always seemed focused in the kitchen, cooking something that smelled a bit different.

Lincoln Way Nights was an introduction to Intelligent Trunk Music, a phrase that’s gone on to define the lane in which Stalley rides.  The bass knocks, but doesn’t bury you in a frantic, trappish, thug waffling nightmare.  Then came Savage Journey To The American Dream, an interesting homage to Hunter Thompson’s manic crusade in search of what Steinbeck so elegantly spent a career putting to paper.  How do we find fulfillment in this American rat race?  What does it mean to make it, and how might we get there?

Following those impressive (and entirely free) projects, you’d assume the label execs would be panting for a full length, something to generate pesos, and a song or two for the radio.  Ever the boat-rocker, Stalley decided to put together Honest Cowboy, the album BEFORE the album.  The title comes from the notion that cowboys are no bullshit, hard-nosed, nomadic workers in search of food and pay wherever they may find it; much like the man behind the mic, whose career has been anything but ordinary.

Honest Cowboy is a shrewd business move.  Nothing on the project is a throwaway.  There’s a few high profile guests including Schoolboy Q rocking like a giant creep on “NineteenEighty7”, and Scarface’s usual Texas magic on “Swangin'”, a track originally called the first “single” from the record.  DJ Quik produces the opener, “Spaceships & Woodgrains”, and mixed some of the project as well.

If this collection of tracks serves a purpose, besides the “filler” blogs and critics will call it, it’s to complete a trilogy embodying Stalley’s character.  His last three projects have slowly shed light on the man and the artist, something that often takes rappers a career to accomplish.  Rick Ross took a shot on a blue collar kid from Massillon, Ohio, and that long shot may turn out to be the strongest piece in his Maybach puzzle.  Grab the tape at http://www.livemixtapes.com/mixtapes/23437/stalley-honest-cowboy.html, and follow the cowboy himself on Twitter @Stalley.

Raptum’s Delight

soundcloud.com

Today’s fix comes from Leyton, London, England.  If you question whether hip hop can transcend regional and national boundaries, I bring you Raptum of the D.O.O.R. collective.  I stumbled on the video for “Hear The Sirens” last week via Twitter and his debut project, The Rorschach Test,  has been on rewind since.

London’s hungry, young  MC’s soak up global influences and turn them into grimy, personal long-playing soundtracks.  Raptum tackles life, love, and the weight of the world through his unique lens on The Rorschach Test. He’s at his best when utilizing a rapid-fire delivery to destroy the beat.  He spits like a Cockney Lupe on the soulful “Peace”, and channels his inner Common on “Psalm 23: Christmas Rainbow”.   Most impressive is the sequencing of the tape, leaving you with the feeling of an album rather than a freebie.

Only 18 years young, Raptum’s clearly a student of hip hop.  He brought a solid debut to the table with The Rorschach Test, and I’m anticipating more fire as he readies his next project.  Grab the tape for free at http://www.hotnewhiphop.com/raptum-the-rorschach-test-mixtape.69337.html, and follow him on Twitter @raptum_.  No sleeping kid, you’re officially on the radar.