Best of 2013: Hip-Hop

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Admittedly, 2013 was all about beats and rhymes.  There were plenty of anticipated records, and some delivered.  Others swung and missed.  I even heard Kanye put out a new one.  Overall, 2013 was a winning season for rap.  The east coast roared back into first place while Kendrick tried to “Control” his way at the top.  Hopefully, we’re in for another banner 365 days in 2014.  These twenty albums aren’t in any particular order.  Enjoy.

Childish Gambino- Because the Internet:  I love it when a rapper (slash actor, slash comedian, slash writer) can harness the shit storm between their ears and make honest (and somewhat delusional) art.  It’s part sunshine part Paxil, and that frailty is what makes it one of my favorites of 2013.

J. Cole- Born Sinner: The Prince of the Roc put his cards on the table for his sophomore release.  Amidst the standard rapper boasts you’ll find a young man struggling to make sense of fame and faith simultaneously.  It’s packed with singles, without sounding overly hooky.  Cole’s also starting to put the pieces together as his own producer.

Danny Brown- Old:  Love him or hate him, Old is a phenomenal album.  Split it down the middle and you have the sound that elevated him to cult status, juxtaposed with a more grounded Danny who seems weathered from the non-stop party.  A rush from end to end that manages to stay in rotation.

Action Bronson & Party Supplies- Blue Chips 2:  The weird duo of Queens bred Bronsolino and Brooklyn producer Party Supplies came with another batch of sample-heavy, head scratching hilarity.  I’ll be damned if Bronson’s stock isn’t rising with each release.  Pee Wee Herman fans immediately cracked a smile three minutes into this one.  Bonafied classic.

Chance The Rapper- Acid Rap:  Chance likes acid…acid likes Chance, and the rest is history.  Maybe the most creative music this side of Andre 3000’s The Love Below.  It’s an intimate glance into the mind of a young musician on the rise to stardom.  One of the many impressive records to come out of Chicago this year.

Run The Jewels- S/T:  El-P and Killer Mike are the odd couple of hip-hop.  Heavyweights in their own right, their combination of skill and technical prowess made this one a marvel to hear for the first time.  It’s a headphones record that dares you to ignore it.  The minute you look away, your chain and Bel Air 5’s vanish into the night.

R.A. The Rugged Man- Legends Never Die:  He doesn’t care what you think.  In fact, R.A. wants you to talk shit.  Legends Never Die runs circles around your favorite mixtape.  Largely ignored by critics, but alive in the subways and barber shops, R.A. proved that he might be contained now again, but he can’t be stopped.

Western Tink and Beautiful Lou- Mobbin’ No Sobbin’:  This duo’s mantra became one of my favorite records of the year.  Tink raps like a Texas legend over high-end spaced out production from Lou, epitomizing the blue collar ethos that hip-hop has embodied the last few years.  It’s dark and moody, but still a celebration of being young and cool as fuck.

A$AP Rocky- Long. Live. A$AP:  He raps like he’s from Houston.  He looks like he’s from the pages of a high fashion magazine.  He balances soft core and thug with a delicate flair that’s somehow believably masculine.  It shouldn’t work…but it does.  This album’s misses are more impressive than some of the years “bangers”.  Long live ASAP.

Deniro Farrar- The Patriarch II:  The self-proclaimed leader of cult rap changed the way I heard hip-hop in 2013.  Deniro is rapping out of sheer necessity, which makes you step back and take stock.  He’s angry enough to shout it out, but calculated enough to pick his spots for maximum effect.  There’s a few mixtapes that moved me this year, The Patriarch II’s a stunner.

ShowYouSuck- Dude Bro:  It’s hard not to root for Chicago’s ShowYouSuck.  His releases chronicle the knowledge gained in the business of rap, and each is more impressive than the last.  Dude Bro is a delirious romp around the town through the eyes of a guy who’s having more fun doing the dishes than you and I have at Space Mountain.  PMA might be contagious…bro.

Mac Miller- Watching Movies With The Sound Off:  Mac Miller’s rise has been met with plenty of naysayers praying for his downfall.  Impressively, he’s succeeding on the strength of him and his team.  This one is jittery and uneasy like the man himself.  Far from a masterpiece, but miles away from a blue slide in a Pittsburgh park.

Czarface- S/T:  7L, Esoteric and Inspectah Deck put their heads together and cooked up one of the gnarliest records of the year.  Dead serious boom bap, bottom line.  If you still wear Timbs, don’t agree with singing in your raps, and haven’t heard this…you’re fucking up.

Pusha T- My Name Is My Name:  I rap like it’s my job when “Nosetalgia” cues up.  Pusha balances drug rap with slick Kanye flavored nonsense from beginning to end, blurring the lines between genres.  The delays were worth the wait.

Retch- Polo Sporting Goods:  Jersey newcomer Retch sounds like the third member of Mobb Deep.  Reminds me of The Alchemist on the boards.  Roc Marciano meets Prodigy meets dice outside the chicken spot.  Toss in a few features for good measure and you’ve got one of the most slept on tapes of 2013.

Vic Mensa- INNANETAPE:  While the world got crazy on Chance, his pal Vic Mensa dropped a stellar project full of wild word play and dizzying beats.  What strikes me is his ability to craft songs not verses.  Vic raps like he’s looking for a championship belt, and if he keeps it moving like this…he’s next in line for a title shot.

Ugly Heroes- S/T:  Ugly Heroes makes music for people who work, and fight, and love, and struggle.  It’s not perfect, but then again neither is the world we live in.  Their straight forward style will have you dusting off your G. Rap records.  Old heads rejoice.

Auggie The 9th- GAWS:  Chicago does it again.  Auggie spared no cost turning GAWS into something you can feel.  There’s no filler here, even the interludes make you smile.  He’s come a long way from a feature on ShowYouSuck’s “Hunter Hearst Helmsley”, but it’s still all about homies helping homies.

Roc Marciano- Marci Beaucoup:  Samples bring Roc Marciano’s instrumentals to life.  He’s emerging as an MC that can also handle the duties on the boards.  Marci Beaucoup is a dialed back affair that pulses like the traffic lights of the streets you roam.

Joint Chiefs: Sortahuman x K.E.V.O.R.K.I.A.N- My Cousin Vinny 2:  Alabama met The Bay when Sortahuman and K.E.V. collided for My Cousin Vinny 2.  The raps are stoney and clever, while the sounds span coast to coast.  It’s an ambitious project fueled by the flexibility of social media.——-

Thanks for reading and supporting Shiny Glass Houses.  Follow on twitter @shinyglasshouse and leave a comment to share your thoughts.  Stay tuned for more music, ranting and raving, and other assorted nonsense in 2014.

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Best Of 2013- Rock/Pop

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Lists, lists, lists.  What kind of music internet webpage would we be if we didn’t listen to albums all year long and culminate that commitment into tidy lists for you to ridicule, argue about, and ultimately disregard?  We aim to please.  So here’s the SGH Best Of 2013 in Rock/Pop.  These releases are in no particular order, they’re simply the sounds that moved our feet.  Click to leave comments below, and enjoy!

The So So Glos- Blowout: Just when I thought punk was dead?  Who am I kidding…I haven’t worried about the state of punk since college.  But these NY’ers do it with the sort of passion and pomp that made me fall in love with all that chaos in the first place.  It’s gasoline and a match from the minute you press play.  Definitely a favorite find of this year.

Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City:  Little Ezra and Co. are all growns up.  Our favorite vamps stopped rewinding their favorite Paul Simon tapes and swung a right hook like a real boy on their latest effort.  The songs are edgy and vulnerable, proof that NYC can eat you up and spit you out.  This isn’t Vampire Weekend’s masterpiece, but trust that it’s a damn fine effort.

Arctic Monkeys- AM:  This band is in full gallop, and they’re pulling away from the pack.  They’re not writing songs about bar brawls and bronze faced lassies anymore.  Instead, they’ve made a move to incorporate certain sounds that have shaped their craft, like creepy R&B and sad British pop, which somehow all fall into place on AM.  If I was ranking, this one’s gunning for the #1 spot.

Parquet Courts- Light Up Gold:  All hail the glorious slacker.  They live on the couch.  They eat crackers and never vacuum the floor.  They get in a van and tour the country on the strength of one of the smartest, quirkiest records of the year.  I haven’t had this much fun being bored since I discovered Pavement and decided not to cut my hair.  This is my favorite new band of the year.  “Stoned and Starving” is an anthem…trust me.

Haim- Days Are Gone: Days Are Gone is so shamelessly polished I wondered if I was missing the joke.  Three sisters from LA who look pretty and write delicious pop songs?  Is this a Disney show?  All’s forgotten once “The Wire” is ringing in your head.  It will haunt you, and make you take a risk on the rest of the album, which doesn’t relent for a second.

Deer Tick- Negativity: John McCauley and the boys sobered up long enough to crack another bottle of Jack and press record for the most serious and powerful album of their career.  It’s not all doom and gloom, but it’s close; proving there is more than meets the eye for this gang of Rhode Island weirdos.

Queens Of The Stone Age- Like Clockwork:  Play this while you’re doing bad things in the dark of night.  If that sounds vague and ominous, now you’re getting it.  Josh Homme is getting more slick and sleazy as the years tick past and finally seems comfortable that his little garage band can pack arenas.  It’s drop-tuned and fuzzy, distorted and odd…a fitting next chapter for the Queens.

Signals Midwest- Light On The Lake:  Cleveland’s Signals Midwest seem to elevate their game with each release.  Records like Light On The Lake are the reason I read, listen, and write about new music.  This album is honest and fragile without lacking the edge which comes from being raised on bands like The Clash and Fugazi.  Easily a top five finisher for me this year.

Arcade Fire- Reflektor:  A few weeks ago I dusted off Neon Bible and The Suburbs.  When I finally got around to this one I was somewhat baffled.  LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy joined the party and with him came the shake and shimmy of modern disco.  When you toss that into a blender with the already worldly eclecticism of Arcade Fire you’re left with a nearly perfect release.  I need to see this band live in 2014.

The Avett Brothers- Magpie and the Dandelion:  The Avett’s made the list strictly based on circumstance.  A record sometimes hits you when you need to be hit.  The Avett Brothers did that for me this December.  Good music can bring families together in the most organic and genuine way.  “Vanity” is a song that will stay with me forever, and it just so happens the rest of this album is just as striking.

The Strokes- Comedown Machine:   Total homer call on this one.  The Strokes have been one of my favorite bands for a decade, and I anticipated this release for months.  It didn’t disappoint, yet somehow managed to barely blow me away.  There’s not a ton of new ground covered, but when it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  The Strokes can still whip into a frenzy, and they hate each other on par with the mighty Rolling Stones.  If Julian, Nick, Fab, Nikolai, and Albert are selling…I’m in line to buy.  ———

You can check out these releases streaming on YouTube, or spend a few bucks at a local record shop or on iTunes.  Support the arts.  If you can’t afford music then download it for free.  Just be sure to hold a door for an old lady or something…pay it forward.

Best Of 2013 by AJ Suede

AJ Suede

As we wrap another 365 days at Shiny Glass Houses we’re kicking off the year-end posts with a special guest list from producer/rapper and all around good dude, AJ Suede.  The Suede God has been down with SGH from the jump, so when AJ offered his opinions on 2013, we had no choice but to listen and share.  Read and spread the word.  Trolls, leave comments below.

10. A$AP Rocky – LongLiveASAP:  I almost forgot this album because it leaked at the very end of 2012, but it was solid nonetheless.  Rocky and Yams always put together an excellent beat selection to pair with the rhymes.  Standout tracks: LVL, 1 Train, Fashion Killa, Jodye, Angels, and Wild for the Night (only because it was the soundtrack to a million early 2013’s parties).

9. Danny Brown – Old:  Always looking forward to a Danny Brown release.  You can expect a fusion of genres and witty lyrics to compliment the backdrop.  I don’t replay this album so much, but it was a solid listen from front to back.  Half boom bap and half EDM trap.  Standout tracks: Old, Wonderbread, Lonely, Clean Up, Dope Song, Dubstep, Dope Fiend Rental.

8. Tyler, the Creator – Wolf:  I anticipated this album for a while.  And even though it didn’t get as much play on my iPod as I would have hoped…every Tyler album is a completely different experience.  This project gets hella points for originality and its production.  Standout tracks: Cowboy, Slater, 48, Campfire (due to an appearance from Ms. Sadlier of stereolab), Parking Lot, and Rusty.

7. Denzel Curry – Nostalgic 64:  This album is raw and dark as fuck.  I don’t really feel the need to say more.  Standout tracks: Dark and Violent, Mystical Virus 3, Parents, Threatz, N64.

6. Kid Cudi – Indicud:  Indicud doesn’t stand out to me as much as other Cudi albums, but it gets number 5 on this list because I always catch myself listening to it while I drive.  Much props to Cudi for handling the production as well.  I’m still waiting on Man on the Moon 3 though.  Standout tracks: Red Eye, Young Lady, Just What I Am, Beez

5. Da Mafia 6ix – 6ix Commandments:  Most fans of the original Triple 6 Mafia were excited when DJ Paul announced that the original members (minus Juicy J of course) were in the studio working on new material.  Seeing how Triple Six has a large shadow of influence over the game, it was great to hear them rework some of their classic tracks into modern sounding versions.  This also marks the last time we’ll hear the late Lord Infamous on a full length album with his bandmates.  Standout tracks: Break Da Law, Murder on My Mind, Go Hard, Stash Spot

4. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris:  One of the most highly anticipated albums of the last couple years.  True Wolf Gang fans were ecstatic when Earl returned home from his stint in Samoa, waiting to see the maturity and progression in his subject matter.  Like I expected, there weren’t rhymes about rape and other shit like his previous album.  Instead we got a series of introspective and personal songs cloaked in serious wordplay and great lyricism.  Earl also handled some of the production which makes the album more enjoyable.  Standout tracks: A good listen from start to finish.

3. James Blake – Overgrown:  It’s hard to explain this album.  It’s a great post-dubstep/PBR&B effort with mind blowing instrumentation and singing. Unlike anything I ever heard, which is expected for a James Blake album.  Well deserving of its Mercury Prize.  Standout tracks:  Another good listen from start to finish.

2. Death Grips – Government Plates:  The type of loud earth shattering shit you expect from MC Ride, Zach Hill and Flatlander.  This is the type of music that makes me feel like I can fight anybody; it gives me the bravery of Ned Stark in Kings Landing. It gives me the bravery of Trevor Phillips from GTA V.  If you’re searching for an explosive punk-rap album that will rattle your subwoofer, this is it.  Standout tracks: You might think he loves you for your money but I know what he really loves you for it’s your brand new leopard skin pillbox hat, Two Heavens, Birds and I’m Overflow.

1. Kanye West – Yeezus:  I love when people hate on this album.  I understand that my opinion is my own, but disliking Yeezus shows the lack of diversity in people’s music taste.  This album is a piece of art, 10 tracks, straight killer and no filler.  Reading the albums liner notes shows how many people contributed to the album, which makes it hard for me to understand the how much work was put into the creative process.  —–

Thanks to AJ for his contribution, and be sure to follow him on twitter @ajSUEDE.  Check his visuals and sounds at http://www.youtube.com/ajsuede.

Step Into A World

Chicago’s Auggie the 9th has been working on GAWS for a hot minute.  It’s a slick, picture perfect glimpse into the mind of one oddly cool customer; and it’s worth the wait.  Sure, you might need to hit Wikipedia once or twice to make sense of the rapid fire references.  But even if we’re not in on the joke, the record simply bangs.

The production is textured and realized, which helps GAWS pack its things and move from a standard mixtape into a roomy debut space.  The majority of GAWS finds Auggie flexing his wit, which is his most dangerous weapon.  When it’s time to create he’s able to reach into that brilliantly cluttered mind and piece together songs with heart and soul, from a place that seems entirely his own.  “FREAKAZOID” and “GWS” speak loudly, in completely strange tongues.

GAWS is a true gem.  Chicago hip hop continues to impressively push things forward.  Hats off to the Treated Crew, and shouts out to Buttplay A.S.

Brotherly Love

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Sometimes being late to the party provides all the clarity you need to truly appreciate beauty.  The Avett Brothers have been cranking out folk-country-pop records for the last decade with Rick Rubin at the helm, while I’ve been casting them off as Mumford clones.  Jokes on me, and I’m looking to formally right the ship.

This weekend saw me across the country in Portland, Oregon with a family quite near and dear to my heart.  In the midst of waiting on medical news that could ultimately alter our lives and test the boundaries of our positive mental attitudes, I was accidentally introduced to Magpie and the Dandelion via an impromptu singalong by a six year old.  As the record spun he belted out “Vanity” line for line, and I watched the power of music transform the room.  The heaviness of the moment was cracked by the light of the song and the joy it brought to a little boy’s heart.

The record continued to play long after the six year old lost his desire to entertain us, but the mood stayed in tact.  The Avett Brothers create music that is both fragile and forceful.  It’s packed with harmony and boot stomps; dialing up authentic country sadness while never once forgetting that the bird-flipping spirit of rock and roll can rescue us from our genuine lows.  Magpie and the Dandelion is no classic, but it’s exactly what the last 48 hours called for.  Thanks gents.

The Champs Is Here

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Running an off the radar site like this gives me the opportunity to explore the sounds that truly interest me.  There is no pressure from editors, or ad execs; no payroll or hipster pretense to wade through.  It’s my all about my willingness to search and destroy the preconceived notions of what is dope.

It’s no mystery that hip hop is blistering right now.  That heat can be traced directly towards the energy and singular strength of the World Wide Web.  Email and social media makes trading files easier than physically lifting a finger.  When I came across the music of South Philly’s Champs, I knew I wanted to shine a light on his unique assault on the mic.  We linked up, traded ideas…and here we are.  Fresh off the release of The Woodshop Vol 1, Champs, the rapping ass kid with the killer ‘stache, wasted no time letting us in to his weird and wonderful world.

Shiny Glass Houses:  The Woodshop…is this just a bunch of Philly rappers, or a gang of pals mobbing, sipping, and experimenting with life?  Are there other artists in your camp?  Or does Champs carry the torch?

Champs: Ahhh the Woodshop…it’s a lot of things for us man, I guess first, it’s the house where some of the crew lives in South Philly.  That’s where we build, that’s where everybody comes to plan and execute and all.  It’s just always poppin’ at the Shop. We kinda informally refer to ourselves as the Woodshop crew or whatever..it’s kind of a thing and simultaneously not a thing if that makes sense.

It’s artists, singers, musicians, business people, designers…you know, just our network. But its a special network, definitely a certain mindset. Forward, free-thinking type individuals, definitely doing our fair share of mobbing, sipping and experimenting.  The short list of the What Scene?/Woodshop crew artists would be myself, CASoundz on the beats, Sincerely Tahj, Anyee Wright, Theo Grams, Marv Mack, Tierra Whack, and I’m forgetting some but you’ll hear of them all soon enough.

SGH: Standard rapper interview 101…influences?  I hear some chill out in your delivery like Smoke Dza, but I also catch the vibe that you take writing pretty seriously, heavy word play and different cadences all over the place.  Is there a sound or style that’s helped shaped your vision?

Champs: My musical influence has been all over the map since I first became a true fan of music at age 11 or 12;  European metal to jazz to ambient instrumental, old rock to hardcore and punk and all that, and obviously hip hop. In the world of hip hop?  I always struggle trying to put pen to paper on my actual influences in this shit, but the first stuff that actually got me into hip hop music was definitely Rage Against the Machine and then quickly after that Outkast and Immortal Technique. Those probably don’t make their way much into my music anymore but that’s what got me started.

Lyrics are important to me, and I’m just trying to challenge myself flow-wise.  I live with crazy talented musicians and they’ll mess around with mixed-meter jazz and stuff and it just inspires me to try and write challenging flows in my verses. It wasn’t always like this for me, but I really like when I need to listen to something like 5 or 6 or 10 times before I’m able to memorize it or hum it back, just because it’s like a puzzle.  I try and work that in to the best of my ability in some of my verses.

SGH: It’s no coincidence that you like to put one in the air to relax your mind.  I think it’s a pastime for a lot of us.  What’s your favorite method of herbal relaxation? Vapors…papers…glassware..??

Champs: Yes! The good herb (laughs), I know it’s not very marijuana-progressive but I’m still all about wraps and papers.  It’s just more social, takes longer, smokes thicker.  Not that I don’t appreciate a good volcano or glass piece but if it’s my choice, I’m rollin’ something for the crew.

SGH: For a rap nerd like me, beat selection is of the utmost importance.  I have to truly feel something deep down to dig it.  What do you look for when deciding what sounds will make it to your projects?  In house production?  Friends and family shit?

Champs: My main man Chuck (CASoundz) has been one of my best friends for a number of years since early on in college, and he’s doing the majority of my production right now.  I’m expanding my network of producers as well, just always looking to be inspired.  Most of the time, if I choose to use a beat, it’s because I heard the instrumental and the song basically wrote itself.  With some instrumentals, I’ll be like damn this is hot as shit, but I’ll play it on a loop for 3 months and still not have a single bar to it.  That’s when I just kinda move on and hope someone else will lace it.  When a beat is right, I hear the whole song before I’ve even really written a single bar.

SGH: If you could dress up like one famous person, dead or alive, for Halloween…who would it be.

Champs: Oh man tough one…I never really was crazy into dressing up on Halloween for reasons that I don’t quite understand (laughs).  But if I had to do it, probably Jesus man.  I’m not a Christian really or anything like that but I like to imagine that Jesus was just the best dude to ever live, just overall killed it on all levels at being decent.  Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t, but it inspires me nonetheless just to try and be like the overall dopest dude currently on the planet.  That, and some immature side of me thinks it would be funny to be Jesus on Halloween.

SGH: What’s next for Champs? How do you plan to spread your love?

Champs: There’s so much that I want to do during my lifetime man.  I have this idea that we can start spreading ideas and asking questions through the Champs fan base and eventually transcend hip hop culture to far beyond.  The goal is to get young people to start questioning the priorities that have been impressed upon them since day one.  In order to see the change in the world that I dream of, there needs to be a complete overhaul of the human value system.  What does it mean to be human? What defines a truly human existence?

That’s what I think we need to re-evaluate in these upcoming years.  For literally billions of people on our planet, being human means starving, lacking clean water, being oppressed, forced to work in unspeakable working conditions, robbed of a legitimate voice, having little to no freedoms, etc. etc. etc. At the risk of sounding like one of those infomercials, I just so strongly feel as though we have reached a point in human history where technological advancements provide us a way to get beyond scarcity, inequality, degradation and suffering…but it is not until the young people of our planet first at least THINK that there is possibly something better, some better system, some better distribution of resources that will make planet earth collectively better for all its inhabitants.

I don’t have solutions yet though man, I’m brainstorming, researching, meditating, arming myself with knowledge, trying to figure out what step one really looks like here, I figure we just need to start throwing ideas against the wall and see what sticks.  If you want to change everything, start anywhere. That’s what I hope Champs will accomplish, get young people to start asking questions…to start considering that there may be a better way than dollars, capitalism, representative democracy and organized religion. We can delve deeper into all that later man (laughs).

SGH:  I was going to keep it light, and there you go getting all educated on me (laughs).  Lastly, I always ask…what’s your drink of choice?

Champs: Ahhh my drink of choice?  Gotta be whiskey.  Sometimes with coke, sometimes with ginger ale, sometimes just on the rocks.  And bro, Fireball… (laughs), now that is some Grade A right there.

Do yourself a favor and download The Woodshop Vol. 1. You can grab it here http://whatscene.net/heat-champs-casoundz-woodshop-vol-1/.  Put it on, and get your mind right.  My pal Champs is officially on the radar.

90’s Everlasting…

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Most of the criticism aimed at the A$AP Mob is centered around their lack of NY appeal.  They’ve never been much on the boom bap sound, and their leader is wrapped in more designer threads than a Project Runway castoff.  I can see why people judge.  Rocky does his thing, but in all fairness he sounds more like a Houston double cup sipper than he does an uptown Harlem MC.

Today’s pick from the A$AP Mob features Nast going toe to toe with Mr. MEF himself.  The Wu legend packs his verse in tightly between two rounds from Nast, who is rhyming on this one like he’s got something to prove.  It’s all New York, from the slow zoom up the project walkway to the crew shots with pool sticks and 40’s.  Nothing wrong with a little nostalgia now and then.  Old heads…rejoice, A$AP.