Album Reviews

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending Feb. 3, 2017

You might be thinking that there can’t be anything that just came out that’s better than Big Sean’s new LP, but while that one is good, there are plenty of other albums that are kicking down the door in the name of hip-hop. Among them are several Christian rap projects. Regardless of any officious or impractical religious dogma, any vague piety or loss of identity to group conformity, all of which are virtually absent in this week’s albums, they stand for deep meaning, the fight against evil and the defense of good, so why not include them in the conversation?

My Heroin(e): An Opera In Two Acts by Nik VRSI (VRSI Music)

On his debut album My Heroin(e): An Opera In Two Acts, singer, songwriter, emcee and producer Nik VRSI (Vivid Realities Sang Immortally), born Nik Srinivasan, a real hip-hop protege, vocally trained in the classical style of music, finds his way through school, the party scene, love, life and the airport. Yes, the airport. The LP begins with Nik being stopped by TSA agents before his flight because of his resemblance to known terrorists (Nik is Indian), and things get pretty hairy.

The album then unfolds to tell of the experiences that led Nik to his predicament. His lush operatic singing, advanced rap-storytelling and his big beautiful productions, which sometimes sound like a full jazz ensemble playing their hearts out, other times like an epic movie score, demand the ears of all music fans. Nik finally works things out with the TSA boys and props love and the strength of the human spirit in the ender “World Go Round.” Nik and his guests perform extraordinarily well in the spectacular tales of My Heroin(e), a seesawing ride through early adulthood and a groovy new twist on hip-hop.

4 out of 5 stars

Nobody Famous by Jered Sanders (Hope Hop Music/Soulspazm)

Perhaps never before has Christian hip-hop had so much substance and texture as now, and Florida to DMV youth minister and emcee Jered Sanders is largely responsible for helping the movement. Not only does he show strength in his faith in the Nobody Famous LP but he also shows what it’s for, which is to teach, educate and counsel. From statements like “everybody living like they upside down” and “love is supposed to be your foundation” in “Upside Down” to thoughts on ghetto violence, advising sinners and holding religious leaders accountable, Sanders is spot on with his preachings. He has an astute awareness that the system is controlling people and not the other way around, and he’s first and foremost out to save souls. A man whose message is that nobody is really famous in God’s eyes (i.e. there’s no favoritism in the Lord’s work), Jered Sanders might have been nobody famous before, but he’s gradually becoming someone who is famous in the rap world.

4 out of 5 stars

Welcome To My Dreams by Manuel (Dreams Collective)

Welcome to emcee Manuel’s dreams. The positive persistent one is nimble and clean with his sharp rhyming and his different speeds and cadences of flow here plus he’s got forward messages out the wazoo. His emphasis is on creating music so the fans can get more out of it than he can and also that there is more to the music and industry than material gain. Inner struggles of the mind are among his ending soliloquies. Manuel can turn your nightmares to sweet dreams at the spit of one verse.

4 out of 5 stars

#Ih8rap by Y.Luck (self-released)

The #Ih8rap album by NOLA native Y.Luck (Keith Swanier II) is a bit uneven in presenting its power of goodness, but it’s surely worth hearing through until the end when the LP really gets juicy. Some sexual boyishness, condemnation of pretenders, love chasing and almost too much boasting must be worked around in order to get to the gold underneath. In the thick of it, Swanier comments on not being out for the fame but rather for the music and a career livelihood, plus he’s fully intent on bringing real rap back from the glory days. In his last three tracks, he asks several serious questions about race, politics and business in the music and other endeavors and this is where the heart and soul of the album truly lie. Truth be told, Y.Luck loves rap, not the counterfeit type that’s shamefully peddled to the masses nowadays.

3 out of 5 stars

Blue Eyed Devil by Krum (Get Nice)

Gospel-spreading rapper and musician Krum of Dallas, Texas never betrays where he’s from and what he believes in with his electric folk-music backdrops and good word in rhyme atop them. In Blue Eyed Devil, he again casts out the devil and Satan, feeds the urge in us to be different and just spreads goodness and values throughout, as he belts out his tunes in both rap stanzas and cooly crooned song verses. Like a lot of Christian hip-hop, there is somewhat of an avoidance of explicit topics on current world events, but Krum’s enriching words of wisdom for the soul here are helpful much and disappointing never.

3 out of 5 stars

Libertad by Third Root (self-released)

San Antonio three man band Third Root (MexicanStepGrandfather, Easy Lee and DJ Chicken George) lead the revolution in their pocket of the country with their third album Libertad. Following albums Stand For Something and Revolutionary Theme Music from 2012 and 2014 respectively, Libertad is liberation for the ears and mind. Racist politics, a brief hit on the corporate sector and wide open awareness of aggravated social dynamics are all prevalent topics on the album as these music men, educators and OGs (who are anti gang violence and crime) fight with the good movement to free all men, women and children, to a 1960s, protest music inspired sound-set.

3 out of 5 stars

Canopy by Nobigdyl (Indie Tribe)

Middle Tennessee rapper Nobigdyl (Dylan Phillips) of the Indie Tribe collective puts up no fronts about sounding like Chance The Rapper and peers. He openly cites them as influences, and with his bright, unashamed Christian lyrics that uphold love, wisdom and understanding, there’s nothing to dislike about him. His debut Canopy is of that type of magnificence and more because his virtues transcend the listening experience. The productions and Phillips’ rosy tone create an innocent air that is without bite or offense. Little hardness is evoked. For a subtle, more or less standard gospel rap engagement, Canopy has those fine contemporary Dylan-bars that associated act Derek Minor gushed about him for a few years back. It celebrates being saved and shares the welcome feelings that come with it, and it serves as an excellent how-to guide for rappers trying to be both popular and pure of soul.

3 out of 5 stars

I Decided by Big Sean (GOOD Music/Def Jam)

Detroit/Def Jam artist Big Sean (who is also on Ye’s Getting Out Our Dreams) releases his fourth LP, I Decided, in more or less the same form he’s had since the beginning. It’s got its positives, and it’s got its negatives, but overall, it’s solid enough for him. The Eminem feature as well as those from Jeremih, Jhene Aiko, The Dream, Migos and others are okay, not bad, but definitely market grabbers, and the sizable staff-made beats are pretty typical for the modern day. Sean falls victim to sexy whips, jewelry and dice gaming (sneakily put in there, almost subliminally) as well as some jealousy of his exes and the men that have taken his place in their lives. Those are just about the only dents in the fine finish of the album. As for the high points, there are of course Sean’s solid creative writing and lyrical delivery and fortunately he’s got a bunch of lessons for us. He promotes inner strength, chemistry over “anatomy” in evaluating potential partners, love for mom, sacrifice and just thinking and living right in general. I Decided may not have any huge standout hits for the radio, tv and such, but it’s without a doubt a good addition to Big Sean’s catalogue.

3 out of 5 stars

Misunderstood by Hector Dominguez (self-released)

Humboldt Park, Chi emcee in service of Him, Hector Dominguez not only has spiritual views but power in his lyrical punch, from the spirit that has imbued him with salvation. On his most recognized, most self-realized project yet, Misunderstood, Dominguez regrets having a negative impact on ex girlfriends but now that he’s a husband and father, he’s man enough to admit his mistakes, teach on righteousness and seize the day. The posse-packed “Bar Exam” with guests from various corners of the country is the tour de force of the EP. The whole of Misunderstood though is greater than the sum of its parts. The album doesn’t often get secular to touch on all the social issues out there, but it nicely represents cleanliness of attitude with a gestalt that is fully sanctified and glorious.

3 out of 5 stars

Laine’s Baby Boy by J Hood (ODG Entertainment)

What happens to a former affiliate of a famous band who was never in it for the fame, fortune, glitz or glamor? He or she doesn’t quit and keeps making music. Yonkers’ J Hood from the LOX side camp has a traditional product in Laine’s Baby Boy, but there is no mask over J’s presentation of himself therein. He has his thoughts on the hood and keeping at it through life, his appreciation and love for his passed away mother, his adherence to Islamic doctrine and the influence of ancient Egyptian gods and leaders, plus a truly profound moment of realization in “Negga Woke.” Laine’s baby boy really has grown up.

3 out of 5 stars

Same Moon Same Sun by O.C. (DITC Studios)

Here to take some responsibility and pitch in with the work of enlightening through rap, Brooklyn DITC legend O.C. (Omar Credle) is socially conscious as ever in his new issue (and just one of several albums in his discography), entitled Same Moon Same Sun, like a force that binds us all. After taking a sec to share his story of how he learned of homie Big L’s passing, O.C. shares his disapproval of drugs like lean taken by the kids, the murder of the young in the streets, the bullying done by America (see “My City”), confusion regarding ISIS and Al Qaeda plus a few other stories, which are what he has always excelled at telling. Mr. Omar “O.C.” Credle has always been a caring man but perhaps at no other time than now has he been more upfront and open about showing it in various relevant forms to his fans and the public.

Same Moon Same Sun can actually be download for free from DITC Studios’ site above on the album title link.

3 out of 5 stars

The Calm by Zarinah (self-released)

Zarinah from Philadelphia is assertive, composed and dignified on her own in The Calm, the followup to the native East Coast belle’s Dope Becomes Her Mixtape project from 2010. Zarinah is cautious of seductive men in “Love You” and further resistant to the man in “Snapped” but goes to the other side for sexual relief in “Flower,” a fairly convincing attempt at balance. Her storytelling is flexed in “Dear Jesse” (the tale touches home for losing someone close), and although her intermediate lyricism, typified character and lack of original substance and consciousness won’t leave you speechless, Zarinah helps prove with some aplomb that rap is far from just a man’s game.

2 out of 5 stars

Black Privilege by Hubbs & M16 (self-released)

Pittsburgh emcee Hubbs over production by M16 is no problem when the former Hubbs rhymes like second nature on sense, logic, opinions, memories and observations, a mixed bag of topics that follow the company line of conventional hip-hop subject matter. Worthy to mention, “Be Careful,” which doesn’t quite condone banging, looks out for envelope-pushing risk takers in the ghetto with care and concern, so that they don’t pass the point of no return. Any flaws however are mostly made up for by Hubbs’ quality wordplay, and a Skyzoo assist in “Buck” only helps in this adroit affair that has the audacity to call itself Black Privilege.

2 out of 5 stars

Room 39 by Ty Farris (self-released)

Detroit emcee Ty Farris and layered lyricism are one and the same. The moxie-possessing Midwest rapper derives his self confidence from surviving a tough hood, and though his new project Room 39 is mainly a showcase of intricate wordplay that could cut down on the cockiness, Ty is technically enrapturing and particularly relevant in a socially conscious manner in “Product of My”; however, that is the only fresh moment of new era enlightenment on the album. D monument Royce 5’9’’ guests in this full service bar-festival of rap that is a true testament of skill for Ty Farris.

2 out of 5 stars

Greater Than Great: 3rd Quarter by Kwestion (Rock Da Block)

Rapper Kwestion, not to be confused with DJ Kwestion of Jedi Mind Tricks, aims to be greater than great again in the third entry of his ambitious string of albums that began in the “1st quarter” in 2011. The Little Rock, Arkansas to LA transplant has the persistence and determination to overcome obstacles in his path. He revisits childhood memories of simpler times and how to approach women with class and tastefulness, with a bright inspirational tone but not a great deal of originality. He is a real guy, straight from the heart, and he plays no shenanigans but also takes no risks in this safe, mostly hopeful 3rd Quarter.

2 out of 5 stars

The Artist LP by L2B (Elm City Origins)

Elm Street Assassin and New Haven, CT native L2B is another one of those respectable guys who are keeping real rap lyricism existent in a dogged mainstream bastardized by major label joker “artists.” The Artist LP has that homemade, cottage industry feel in a good way… for the most part. The somewhat rough, renegade nature helps to an extent; however, there is genericness in standard talking points like criticism of wack rappers, coming up, the struggle, etc. L2B carries himself carefully on The Artist but doesn’t get very high off the ground.

2 out of 5 stars

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