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Artist: Copywrite

Album: God Save The King

Label: Man Bites Dog

Date: 2/28/2012

Copywrite of the Columbus, Ohio crew MHz combines his battle rap style with his newfound Christian beliefs on his fourth studio album, God Save The King.  Over the last 10 years Copy has released albums of varying success with critics and fans in The High Exhaulted (released in 2002 and re-released in 2010), Ultrasound: The Rebirth EP (2009), and The Life And Times Of Peter Nelson (2010.)  On his most recent and most well-rounded release, Copywrite returns to his battle rap origins that he shied away from on The Life And Times of Peter Nelson, supplying tracks packed full of punch lines, metaphors, and quotables.
 

Copywrite doesn’t ride solo on GSTK, as the album includes guest appearances from MHz members Tage Future and Jakki Da Motamouth as well as IllogicRockness Monsta of Heltah Skeltah, ToraeCasual, Evidence (of Dilated Peoples), Roc Marciano, and more.  The seventeen-track project features diverse range of beats from nine producers including two tracks from Wu-Tang affiliate Bronze Nazareth and four from Stu Bangas, among others.

 

As the album title suggests, faith and spirituality are a big part of Copywrite’s lyrical content.  Listeners are given a look at his internal struggles and experiences.  Copywrite attempts a range of styles over the course of the album.  The album opens with a track called “Post-Apocalyptic Request Box” which serves as a theatrical introduction to the theme of the project. Copywrite’s MCing abilities really shine through on tracks like “Swaggot Killaz” and the Khrysis produced “Union Rights.”  “Swaggot Killaz” takes a few jabs at rappers who constantly use the phrase “swag” while the MC effortlessly flows through comical punchlines (“hoes keep me on my toes like ballerina tights/think your on fire, Ricky Bobby, Talledega Nights“).  On “Union Rights,” Copywrite drops quotables in double-time, while taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to discussing how hard he works and how seriously he takes his music. He mentions the need to consistently put out material to hold his place in the game, which is probably his thought process behind releasing four projects in the last four years.

Tracks such as “J.O.Y” and “Yo! MTV Raps! (Money for Nothing)” featuring and produced by Copywrite’s label mate Jason Rose may appeal to a broader mainstream audience than a majority of his past works.  “Yo! MTV Raps!” is a remake of the 1985 Grammy Award winning single, “Money for Nothing” by British Rock band, Dire Straits. Copywrite’s 2012 version of hit includes a verse that runs through the titles of popular MTV shows with lines like “I birth MCs when I preach the message, so my MTV RAPS are SIXTEEN AND PREGNANT.”  “Golden State (Of Mind)” featuring Casual, Evidence, and Roc Marciano offers both a visitor and a resident’s point of view of the state of California, while the politically charged “White Democrats” featuring Mac Lethal is not far off sonically, as both songs stay in the vein of classic hip-hop.  “Synesthesia” is another thematic song and also the sole track produced by long-time collaborator RJD2.  It describes some of the sensations felt by those who have the neurological condition and even suggests that Kanye and Q-Tip are synesthetes themselves.

 

Recently in an AllHipHop.com interview, Copywrite explained that his future recordings will not contain foul language and will fall in the category of Christian music. He implies that this album represents a change in his beliefs that began when he was 16 years-old.  Copywrite’s newly expressed beliefs are most clearly demonstrated on tracks such as “Sorrow” and “Talk With Jesus.”  “Sorrow” featuring Illogic and Don Jaga expresses Copywrite’s contemplation on the meaning of life and the loss of his parents.  The project comes to a close with “Talk With Jesus.”  The track is reminiscent of Joe Budden’s Pray For Me” in that it illustrates both sides of a conversation between the rapper and God.  Copywrite’s serious lyrics and deep content over Poetiq Beatz’ upbeat production, which includes a sample from Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” (“born sinner, the opposite of a winner”) makes for a powerful final track.

 

Overall, God Save The King is a strong album, but it’s likely that a great deal of hip-hop fans may never have the chance to hear it due to the lack of mainstream notoriety surrounding Copywrite’s solo-career.  It won’t have a strong impact on today’s culture, but the lyrical content is extremely entertaining and well written.  I definitely recommend giving the project a listen as it appears that Copywrite will soon be changing his style to appeal to a very specific fan base. When asked why he is releasing an album that bridges his old content with his new beliefs, Copy stated “I feel like all of those fans I’ve built up over the years won’t just listen to me talking about God if I just came out with an album like that. I needed a bridge album.”  God Save The King surely finds a comfortable middle ground, making the album a well-rounded listening experience.  Who knows; with Christian rap growing in popularity, Copywrite may be able to find more commercial success in the future.  Then again, who knows if Copywrite will truly be able to leave behind the style his fans have become so accustomed to.

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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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