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Artist: Obie Trice

Album: Bottoms Up

Label: Black Market Entertainment

Date: 4/3/12

 

“O-Trice, Back At It!”  Six years after the release of Second Rounds On Me, Obie Trice is back with his third album, Bottoms Up, which keeps in line with his other alcohol-inspired album titles.  Ten years ago Eminem memorably sampled the line “Obie Trice, real name, no gimmicks” from Obie Trice’s “Rap Name” on “Without Me.”  Now, Obie maintains his “no gimmicks” attitude on this project and even brings the line back on “Ups & Downs.”

His past albums, Cheers and Second Rounds On Me, featured many collaborations and with only four features on this sixteen track album Obie Trice seems more comfortable showcasing his lyrics and flow on his own.  The subject matter of the album is light and ranges from the type of woman Obie fantasizes about on “I Pretend” to the story of his career and relationships within the rap game.

Although Obie Trice split from Shady Records in 2008, Eminem has a strong presence on the album through samples, shout outs, production, and a feature.  The project kicks off with a Dr. Dre produced introduction on which Obie spits a verse letting us know that on this album he is “simply spittin whats in O-Trice’s system.”  He then thanks all those who have helped and supported his career so far.  The intro is followed by the energetic “Going Nowhere.”  Obie shows his confidence and lets us know he’s “in this to win this” over Eminem’s production.  The first single off the project, “Battle Cry” features Adrian Rezza and was produced by his brother Lucas Rezza.  It was released last summer.  On the track, Obie reminisces about his critics and past albums.  He starts each verse with his catchy battle cry of “O-Trice, Back At It” reminding us of his perseverance in the game.  The second single “Spend The Day” features singer, Drey Skoni and was produced by Detroit rap/production trio NoSpeakerz, who produced a third of the album.  The track tells the story of what its like for a woman to spend a day with Obie.  “Spill My Drink” is a catchy track on which Obie mentions his album delays and who has stuck by him through all this time.

On the highly anticipated Statik Selektah produced “Richard,” Obie and Slim take it back to “Shady 1.0” with alternating verses packed full of references about them being “dicks” with Eminem on the chorus.  Obie comments on Interscope, as a label, and his issues with the industry on “Ups & Downs” and “Hell Yea.”  He also addresses his relationships with Eminem and Dre accompanied by a few Dre and Em samples on “Hell Yea.”  Trice and the late MC Breed represent for the Michigan rap scene on “Crazy.”  “Lebron On” is the story of Obie’s career told through basketball metaphors and comparisons to Lebron.  It discusses overcoming obstacles and being underrated and hated on.  Obie ends the last track with a shout out to “the G-Unit he knows” and a request to follow him on twitter @RealObieTrice.

A few tracks such as “BME Up” or “Secrets” would have been a good fit for a 50 Cent verse or chorus, but they are solid tracks anyway.  There is an early 2000s classic feel to the album which maybe because he started the project so long ago. Obie’s verses are authentic and unaffected and uninfluenced by current music.  The overall production of the album is solid and a good fit for Obie’s style.  Many tracks have memorable witty lines and metaphors like “The way I hurt em with the ‘Yeshe call me Amber Rose.”  Although some tracks are more memorable than others, the project is comprised of well-written verses, catchy choruses and diverse flow, and definitely worth a listen.

 

 


Purchase Bottoms Up on iTunes

 

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Artist: Maino

Album: Day After Tomorrow

Label: E1Music/Atlantic Records

Date: 2/28/12

Maino continues to tell his story with his sophomore album Day After Tomorrow.  Serving as a follow-up to his 2009 debut If Tomorrow Comes, which narrated his upbringing in Bed-Stuy to becoming a rapper, this new album is set in the present and represents the positive and negative balance that comes with fame.  For better or for worse, this album manages to differentiate itself from his previous album and casts Maino in a new light, while preserving his spot as a NY radio staple.
On many of the 16 tracks Maino’s verses are accompanied by singers on the choruses giving them an R&B feel. He chose to use mostly in-house producers including Blast Off Productions who did four of the sixteen tracks.  The album opens with “Never Gon’ Stop.”  The track makes the theme of Maino’s contemplation of the two sides of fame clear with lines like “why I’m feeling like it was simpler when we was poor.”  On “Need a Way Out,” produced by and featuring Mista Raja, Maino tells his story from three stages of his life starting with his childhood in a poor home, then his stint in prison in the early 90s, and eventually becoming a rapper in where he questions, “looking in the mirror I’m a rapper now/ what’s supposed to happen now?

Based on his lyrics, Maino feels that he has made it in the game but is still not completely satisfied with his current life.  His lyrics are real, but he could have done a better job of showing the contrast between his past and current status.  It’s a concept album and he stays true to his theme, but it does get a little repetitive.  He exhibits confidence on “Messiah” on which he discusses trying to save hip-hop.  While I agree with his thoughts on the state of hip-hop such as “too many characters, the game is like a TV show/I can’t believe I see rappers wearing women clothes,”  he didn’t prove to me that he’ll be the one to save it.  On the title track, “Day After Tomorrow,” and “Glad to Be Alive,” Maino expresses his appreciation and thanks for the success he has seen but reminds us that there are two sides to that success, showing that things have changed with lines like “what happened to the old Maino? People say they miss him.”  “Heaven for a G” stays in the same vein thematically, as the song is about doubt and worry of what the future may hold for the Brooklyn-bred rapper.

Maino is clearly a talented songwriter, and it seems like he is aiming for the certified Platinum success of “All The Above” with singles such as “Let It Fly” featuring Roscoe Dash and “That Could Be Us” featuring Robbie Nova which was released in the fall. “Let It Fly” has a similar beat to the Roscoe Dash assisted hit “No Hands.”  “Unstoppable” and “Heart Stop” also seemed to be aimed at getting radio play.  “Heart Stop” includes a chorus sung by a girl who sounds a lot like Rihanna.  The Buckwild-produced “Nino Brown” and the previously released “Cream” featuring T.I. and Meek Mill which samples a Rick Ross lyric from “MC Hammer” contain some hot lines and quotables. T.I.’s verse has me looking forward to hearing more on his upcoming project Trouble Man, whereas Maino’s verse is the least memorable on the track.

The album as a whole may have benefited from a few more features from well-known artists and a little more diversity in subject matter, which says a lot for Maino. This is sort of a conundrum for Maino because his confidence is clear, but at times he appears overshadowed, as seen on “Cream” when he trades verses with T.I. and Meek. In terms of production, it is solid, but lacking diversity and basically what you would expect from a Maino album.  Overall, The Day After Tomorrow is a worthy effort by Maino, but more than likely only the hit singles the project has spawned such as “Let It Fly” will be remembered by the general public and not the album as a whole.

Purchase The Day After Tomorrow on iTunes

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Artist: Gangrene (The Alchemist + Oh No)

Album: Vodka & Ayahuasca

Label: Decon

Date: 1/24/2012

Never in my entire career as a music reviewer have I come across an album title more intriguing and more esoteric than Vodka & Ayahuasca.  For those who have little to no clue what the hell ayahuasca is, no worries.  As far as the album is concern, all you need to know is that The Alchemist and Oh No mysteriously conjured up this ancient brew from South America, combined it into a powerful cocktail with vodka, and dumped it into your phonographs to create a psychedelic, spiritual journey for listening pleasure. Whether that makes sense to you or whether you’re convinced vodka and spirituality belongs in the same sentence, again, no worries.  All will be explained.

In comparison to their last album Gutter Water, the production is grittier, grimier, and trippier than ever.  Although the album begins with the very forgettable cut “Gladiator Music,” which sounds more like a throwaway G. Rap cut than a Gangrene jam, Alchemist and Oh No amplify the heat until thermostats melt with their next track, “Flame Thrower.”   The instrumental, ironically, is icier and groovier in its tone than the title suggests, but in culmination with Al’s and Oh No’s poignant, plasma radiant verses, the track is a certified banger.  An obvious album highlight is their lead single “Vodka and Ayahuasca.”  Rumbling bass lines, dizzying scratches, and undulating guitar strings make this cut a head knocking sensation.  When the lead guitar crescendos into psychotropic madness, so too, does Gangrene when hammering the nail on the head with their “acid trip” rap lyrics.  Other stand outs from the album include “Drink It Up” featuring Roc Marciano and “Dump Truck” featuring Prodigy.  The real standout on this album, however, is “The Groove,” and Gangrene couldn’t have picked a better name for the record. The production is thick with booming bass, cascading piano patterns, and hallucinogenic, chopped samples, and it is arguably the most leading instrumentation that Oh No produced for the album.  To no surprise, the rap duo lyrically ups the ante with perhaps some of the sharpest lyricism fans may have heard yet from either two. Oh No swan dives first into the maelstrom he created throwing a few darts at the critics with lyrics like “hypnotize, criticize, but we get paper, critics lie, no surprise, they get no favors, it’s no surprise, we can rise major majority rules in the game, they cannot fade us!”  Afterward, The Alchemist closes the track with lyrical jujitsu and folds his adversaries into “spar submission.”

Although minuscule, there are a few cuts that slow the pace of the album.  In “Livers for Sale,” for example, Alchemist flies solo but unfortunately his verse fails to soar. Fortunately for listeners the track is brief, and while Al isn’t spewing garbage, hearing him tackle an entire track sounds awkward. “Dark Shades” featuring Evidence also scores points in the uninspired category, and while many probably would have expected a riveting verse from Evidence, he fails to live up to the expectation. Probably the most disappointing track on the album, however, is “Top Instructors.”  In terms of production, it’s by far the most monotonous and most trite track on the entire album.  Even Gangrene’s live wire flow couldn’t jump this dronish and boring track back to life.

Despite these blunders, Vodka & Ayahuasca is still a solid project that’ll probably end up being championed by die hard fans.   After listening to the entire album, you’ll realize that the album couldn’t have been more appropriately titled considering the chemistry between Oh No and The Alchemist.   The combined forces of the deadly duo will definitely have you laying in fetal position next to your speakers, and if the vibrant rumblings start sounding like a mystical shaman humming, you’re headed in the right direction. For Gangrene die hards, this is definitely an album worth adding to the collection and it will probably end up being celebrated in a majority of underground circles. However, due to the lack of promotion (they only have one official music video) and their heavy footing in the indie circuit, Gangrene surely won’t be making a dent on mainstream audiences anytime soon, and they likely wouldn’t have it any other way. Needless to say, Vodka & Ayahuasca is a joy ride that continues to get better from start to finish, especially while under the influence.

 Purchase Vodka & Ayahuasca on iTunes

After the disappointment of Universal Mind Control, many assumed that Common’s long 18-year career was finally reaching its death kneel.  With Be serving as both a double edged sword and the pinnacle of his career (many newer fans still believe that’s his first album), Common had to prove once again to the ADHD crowd that he’s no typical emcee, despite what his moniker may suggest.  However, as hip-hop’s most familiar underdog, being slept-on after tracking into experimental territory isn’t anything new to Com or his fans.   Certainly The Dreamer, Believer  is no Be, but it’s definitely a strong follow-up after going through a musical dry spell.

Common begins the album strongly with “The Dreamer.”  Unfortunately, his intro is so powerful that you may want to press fast-forward through “Ghetto Dreams” “Blue Sky” and the controversial and subliminal  single “Sweet” just to press rewind.  “Gold,” however, picks up where “The Dreamer” left off.  As the name implies, “Gold” instrumentally, is like an Amazonian wonderland.  As the track begins strongly with rich and soulful instrumentations, Com asserts himself as a leader of the hip-hop generation with lyrics like, “I’m the voice of the meek and under privileged, the smell of success I want ya’ll to get a whiff of this.” He also drops a dose of clever free associative with lyrics like,  ”My dad said it rained on my arrival, now the storm of the brain make these guys drive slow…

Although he’s not “la la laaing” on any record, Com does touch on “soft” subject matters like being a one-woman man.  On “Cloth,” for example, Common bears his heart to his potential wifey-to-be with lyrics like, “anything we can bear, so lets have some cubs” and “hey lover, we can cover each other, through the coldest night, tight, never smothered, it’s two things that hold us together, God is our tailor, and forever.” “Windows” is arguably the most introspective song on the album. Here, Common tackles the reclusiveness women experience after being hurt by lustful men.  He goes further into their dilemma by starting at the root of their problem by reflecting through the eyes of his daughter with insightful lyrics like, “A lot of girls without, they become needy, come on dad, I’m too old for the backseat, can you come and get me, are you coming to my track meet, as she begins to the race of life and love I told her, I can’t run it for ya, God knows I’ma coach ya.”

In general, there aren’t any really weak cuts on the album. Whether he’s feeling cinematic in tracks such as “Lovin I Lost,” enjoying life on “Celebrate,” or pummeling sucka emcees on tracks like “Raw (How You Like It),” Common delivers.  However, if there’s one song on the album that feels misplaced on the album it would be “Sweet.”  Hearing Com transforming into a belligerent and overly aggressive emcee is borderline hilarious due to the fact it just doesn’t fit Com’s collective persona. Even his venomous diss track “The B*tch in Yoo,” doesn’t have a trace of this Dwayne Gittens persona that Com has now assumed.  Don’t get me wrong.  “Sweet” does make a good point of pointing out cotton candy rappers and it guaranteed a head nod, but it’s just doesn’t sound believable.

In addition to “Sweet,” the only thing keeping the album from being as great as Be are his other two singles “Ghetto Dreams” and “Blue Sky.”  They don’t damage the continuity of the album, but in comparison to the rest of the album, they just don’t hold up. Had Common added them as bonus tracks or reduced the album to ten tracks, The Dreamer may have been as great or greater than Be. However, with Universal Mind Control being Com’s strongest debacle to date, who’s complaining?  Besides, seeing Common and No I.D. reunite on an album after 14 years is marvelous, and together they master crafted one of the strongest albums to come out this year. So after listening to this album, will Com make you a believer?  Mos’ definitely.

Purchase The Dreamer, The Believer on iTunes

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