The Marshall Mathers LP 2

eminem-mmlp2-1383321799This is a bit of late review with the album having been out for well over a month now but this is a such a high profile release that I can’t help but have my say. Eminem hasn’t really been on form since The Eminem Show which was way back in 2002. Since then he’s quit music and come back with two very mediocre albums and failed to make himself stand out in modern hip hop, after being the genre’s defining force when he was in his prime. This time out he opts to cash in on the success of one of his truly great albums with a sequel record. 

One thing that remains apparent throughout The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is that Eminem still has one of the best flows in the business, his knowledge of the language and ability to bend any word to fit in with what he wants it to is pretty much unrivalled. This record is easily his best lyrically since The Eminem Show, as a matter of fact, there’s a case for this record having his best rhymes ever from a technical perspective. On the single Rap God he spits faster than even Busta Rhymes could dream of. The problem is though that despite his lyrical prowess there is something lacking from the new reformed Eminem, something that’s been missing for over a decade. He’s far too obsessed with poorly written, trashy hooks which are made even worse by his dreadful singing voice, his last album, Recovery, was riddled with them to the point where it was almost unlistenable, TMMLP2 contains a number of these too, the aforementioned Rap God containing one of the worst of the lot. The record feels confused as to what it wants to be, at times it breaks new ground and gives Eminem’s superior rhymes a breath of fresh air with production that strips things back to basics and adds an edgy bite to his lines, the best of which probably being Survival. Whereas other tracks make the same mistakes as Recovery did trying too hard to be a chart topping success lazy and uninteresting beats and, in doing so, not making the most of what Eminem’s best at: rapping. See the Rihanna featuring Monster for an example of this.

Overall this record is easily the best Mathers has come out with since his comeback and it beats Encore too, but this is still not the Eminem of old. There’s a bit more of the angry, bitterness that littered his early and best material but it’s much more forced and lacks the authenticity he once had. It seems he’s confused as to what he wants to do and too much like he’s making music to be successful than as a release of emotions. The track with Kendrick Lamar is a massive disappointment too.

 

Doris

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Well this summer has seen its fair share of high profile of hip hop releases, and the latest comes from Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt. Odd Future have achieved worldwide success and acclaim within a ridiculously short amount of time but I’ve never given them a huge amount of time. Earl hasn’t been around recently due to his, much publicised, time spent at a correctional school in Samoa and perhaps thats part of the reason why I haven’t given the collective the time of day. It’s Doris, that has served as my point of entry into the weird yet awesome world of OFWGKTA.

Sweatshirt’s flow is an unusual one. His tone rarely changes, but his pace of delivery is constantly fluctuating and rhymes flow into each other and merge in a unique way that makes Doris one of the most impressive hip hop albums I’ve ever heard. The chilled production with slow beats and very few other elements that loop underneath the vocals help create a laid back and stripped down feel to the record that lets Sweatshirt, and his guests, lyrics take centre stage while still being quietly impressive and understated. There’s not a track on the album that doesn’t contain an element of greatness, all the collaborators bring top performances as well including Tyler, The Creator on two tracks offering his trademark vicious rhymes that really compliment Sweatshirt’s own style. Also making an appearance is RZA on the track Molasses, which provides one of the records catchiest hooks – ‘I’ll fuck the freckles off your face bitch’. Chum and Burgundy give perhaps the most personal lyrics that really give an insight into Sweatshirt and helps ground the record so as a listener you make more of a connection with the artist.

Overall this is simply an incredible achievement. In what can tend to be an over saturated genre Sweatshirt has emerged with a completely unique style and hooks to match. Doris could even be the best hip hop album of the year, even, maybe, ahead of Yeezus, but let’s not get completely ahead of ourselves there is still supposed to be a new Wu-Tang record after all.

Magna Carta… Holy Grail

jayz-magnacartaholygrail-608x608-1373466607In a year that promises to be big for hip hop, last week saw Jay-Z’s hotly anticipated latest album released. With the undoubted genius of Kanye West’s Yeezus fresh in everyone’s mind Magna Carta Holy Grail had a lot to do if it was going to stand out. But while Jay-Z’s celebrity profile only seems to grow and grow his music lacks a punch it once had and this latest studio effort hasn’t really changed things.

With his last record, 2009’s Blueprint 3, we saw the rapper move further into the realms of slick, pop-like hip hop and with Magna Carta… he continues that direction. With collaborations from Justin Timberlake, Beyonce and Frank Ocean it was obvious that really his interests are in other areas than hip hop nowadays. His rhymes here a mostly lazy and uninspired, back when he was coming up with classic albums like The Black Album and the first Blueprint there was a real emotional charge to his lyrics as he told stories of hood life, drug dealing and breaking out of the projects, with Magna Carta… we get him comparing himself to Picasso numerous times with no real justification, and giving us a poor sample version of Smells Like Teen Spirit. At points his lines don’t even make sense its clear he’s put them in for a nice rhyme, with things like ‘Leonardo Da Vinci flows, Riccardo Tisci Givenchy clothes’. The production can’t really be faulted continuing in the polished style of Blueprint 3 the beats tick away nicely providing a distraction from Jay-Z’s less than gripping vocal performance. Some of the tracks are great to listen to F.U.T.W and closing track Nickel and Dimes are a couple of stand outs but this is overall a disappointing record.

It’s been a long time really since Jay-Z has been a hip hop genius but I had had a bit of hope for this album after the unique sound found on his collaborative Watch the Throne album with Kanye but Magna Carta… really fails to deliver. In this busy year for hip hop the record will be lost well below the quality of what else is on offer.

 

Yeezus

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Kanye West remains one of the most controversial celebrities around but despite this he continues to be, probably, the most powerful force in modern hip-hop. With his last album, My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy, saw him move deeper into more artistic aspects of his music giving us one of his most personal insights into his thinking and living yet. Yeezus is a departure from his usual style, moving away from polished hip-hop to loud industrial tracks with a breath of the eighties creating his most experimental and unique record yet.

We all know that when Kanye does hip-hop he does it better than anyone, but that is why I think Yeezus is the best move he could have made in his career. It is a record that shows he isn’t phased by expectations (if we didn’t already know that) but it also shows us the he is more multi-faceted than we may have thought. His last album that was a complete departure in style was 2008’s 808s and Heartbreak which, in my opinion, was a poor album where all the songs sounded the same and there was no real punch to it’s overall sound, but Yeezus is something completely different. It’s a powerhouse of an album that grabs you by throat and yanks through a whistle-stop tour of noise-pop and vicious lyrics. His lyrics are on top form here, some of the most inspired lines yet he is both preachy at times and tongue in cheek, mixing up such lines as, ‘I am a God, so hurry up with my damn massage’ with, ‘Y’all niggas can’t control me, I know that we the new slaves’ and further spicing things up by throwing in things like, ‘Eating asian pussy, all I need is sweet and sour sauce.’ The production is as perfect as always as well, drafting in the talents of a huge number of producers including Daft Punk, but it’s also hard to miss West’s usual meticulousness in every single beat. It’s hard to pick stand out tracks from the album, simply because they are all so good. Despite being a short album at only ten tracks that last a total of just 40 minutes there’s not a single second that’s boring. It never stops being noisy but it does have its gentler moments particularly in ‘Hold My Liquor’ and ‘Bound 2’ provide some respite from the raw, minimalistic power of tracks like ‘I’m In It’ and ‘Black Skinhead’. Yeezus really is a complete package of a record one that you wish would continue but realise you couldn’t expect much more from.

The record is a bold move on West’s part, but a move that exemplifies an artist who continues to be at the peak of his game. And a hip-hop artist that can produce a record that is above and beyond what is expected of him. Whether his next album will be the same kind of thing or not I already can’t wait. Young Yeezy has fully transformed himself into the great Yeezus.

Inspectah Deck + 7L & Esoteric = CZARFACE

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Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck joins forces with underground rappers 7L and Esoteric to create Czarface, probably the most refreshing hip-hop record in years. I stumbled across the album on iTunes and was taken aback by how special it actually was. They combine old school hip hop techniques with more recent styles and the result is a breath of fresh air for the whole of hip hop music, in my opinion.

The record is not littered with samples like a large amount of popular hip hop nowadays, it instead takes the somewhat old fashioned approach of bringing the actual rapping to the fore, the beats being laid underneath in such a way that no limelight is taken off the lyrics. The album has a running theme of superheroes with the likes of Batman, Iron Man, etc. popping up at various points and the trio have created this character the ‘Czarface’ based on these more well known creations, in doing this its given the guys a fresh way of delivering old school raps, where they reference the things that they love and make brash claims about being the greatest in the world. The art work, of course, ties in with this and I think it just looks fucking sick, giving the whole concept of the album a picture that we can all relate to and therefore engage with the record in a much better way. While the rapping is the stand out factor it would be wrong for me to completely discount how good the production is here too, I’m sure if these guys wanted they could’ve used the same beats more prominently and the tracks would still be excellent, making the decision to have them as a bottom layer to each song even more inspired since so much work have obviously gone into them. It is clear here that everyone involved is just out to create the music they were brought up on and bring it back the way it should be. Czarface is coming for you, let’s hope this isn’t the only thing we hear from him.

Die Antwoord

Die Antwoord (3)This is going to be one of my weirdest band plugs mainly because I don’t even know if I like Die Antwoord, but when I started watching their bizarre music videos over Christmas I wasn’t able to shake them from my mind and since then all I’ve wanted to do is find out more about these freaks. Die Antwoord consists of South African duo Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser and although not ever really considered a full member their DJ, DJ Hi-Tek. They define themselves as a rap-rave group and have pretty much coined the term Zef to describe their music.

Now the majority of you will know Die Antwoord for ‘Enter the Ninja’ their youtube hit that has now reached over 14 million views. Enter the Ninja is a decent indicator as to what this band are, they have a constant question mark over their heads asking are these guys for real or is this just a big piss-take? Looking at their other songs the answer will become no clearer to you. You will frequently come across something similar to Enter the Ninja; Fatty Boom Boom, for example features the same kind of simple hook that sounds like it was written by a three year old but is it ripping on current pop culture or not? Their are other songs that are much more enjoyable listens, my favourite is Fok Julie Naaiers which I think is slightly more normal sounding, but I use the word normal very loosely in this instance. Their first album $o$ is of course strange but their follow up record Ten$ion I found a much more enjoyable listen but it’s impossible to deny the production qualities on both. The track Baby’s on Fire for example wouldn’t sound out of place in a UK night club but is immediately better than any of the dance music around in the country today simply for the value of their weirdness.

On the question of whether these nutters are being serious or not I’m almost they’re playing caricatures. Watching various interviews with the duo on YouTube though doesn’t really answer anything one interview in particular involves Ninja losing it at the interviewer for asking if the band viewed themselves as conceptual art. But I think the interviews these guys take part in they are playing their parts during them. One of the reasons I believe it’s all a joke is from listening to previous projects of theirs. Ninja’s real name is Watkin Tudor Jones and Die Antwoord is not his first project with Yo-Landi. Their most notable project beforehand was probably Max Normal who were a much more straight hip-hop and when you listen to their tracks showing that the pair do know what normal music is. Another band of theirs was The Constructus Corporation which was more trip-hoppy but still infinitely more normal than Die Antwoord.

The biggest thing swaying me though is the bands videos. They are some of the most entertaining things I have ever seen. The aforementioned Fatty Boom Boom features a Lady Gaga lookalike giving birth to a prawn. All their official videos are incredibly well-crafted pieces of abstract film. The greatest thing the band have done is without their short film Umshini Wam which I will post at the bottom of this entry. Their videos are so good in fact that even David Lynch is a fan of the band allegedly he has invited them to his house for a coffee so maybe if we all keep our fingers crossed one day we might a feature length Lynch/Antwoord movie, I’m foaming at the mouth just thinking about it enjoy this fucked up shit: