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Shad

TSOL

(Black Box/Decon; US: 5 Oct 2010; UK: 29 Nov 2010)

Review [18.Nov.2010]

6


Shad
TSOL


Shad is the sort of rapper that rappity-rap fans love to champion. His delivery is effortless, his voice is fluent and well-dictioned, his cleverness is above average, and his songs are adherent to specific concepts from beginning to end. As a small bonus, the guy rarely if ever swears either, making him perfect for children and parents alike. But don’t take that as a sign that Shad is gunning for Will Smith’s spot—lead single “Yaa I Get It” blazes forward with a vitriol that’s impossible to ignore as Shad addresses his frustrations with the industry side of making music. Songs like “A Good Name” and “Telephone” reveal a conceptual intricacy and open-heartedness that alludes to the more playful edges of the Fresh Prince, but never sacrifice tact for cheap laughs. He is truly an MC’s type of MC, rapping in a way that makes his words seem to be overflowing from his lips. His words bounce off of and react to each other constantly, creating tapestries of lyrics that are both easily relatable and interestingly designed works of poetry and music. It’s true that Drake created a much more accessible album, one that undoubtedly received numerous spins from millions of listeners. I know I listened to his album more than this one. But anytime TSOL queues up, there is a different kind of atmosphere to it. Where Drake made a very good pop album, Shad made a fantastic hip-hop album. In the process, he becomes one of the rare Canadian MCs who could rightly declare their LPs not just some of the best in their country, but all of the year’s hip-hop landscape. TSOL stands out in 2010 more than anything for being one of the most agreeable hip-hop releases of the year—give it just one spin, and you’re sure to find yourself putting it on again. And again. David Amidon


 

 



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The Roots

How I Got Over

(Def Jam; US: 22 Jun 2010; UK: 21 Jun 2010)

Review [24.Jun.2010]

5


The Roots
How I Got Over


If you thought the Roots would stop bringing the musical heat because they became Jimmy Fallon’s house band, you were sadly mistaken. Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter continue as the backbone of hip-hop’s beloved live act. Together, Thompson and Trotter provide hard, organic beats and rugged rhymes for trying times, from the solemn reworking of Monster of Folk’s “Dear God” to the frenetic “Web 20/20”. The album adeptly strolls through the melancholy and claustrophobia of our modern times. Black Thought, the culture’s dependable lyrical workhorse, shifts gears with his heartfelt singing on the title track, while also magnanimously sharing space with artists like Truck North, Dice Raw, Blu, Phonte, Joanna Newsom, and John Legend.  Of course, the main nitpick is “fewer guests, more Black Thought”.  Meanwhile, the Roots address isolation, spirituality, and those life changing moments that test our perceptions of ourselves. “Grown folks” music, you say? Try “great music”, period.  Extra chuckles for literally doing it again in “Doin’ It Again”, as Black’s verses have appeared in at least two other places; one, on the 2009 BET Hip-Hop Awards cipher, and another time on the 2010 J. Period-helmed live mixtape. For those keeping track since 2006: Game Theory (2006) > How I Got Over (2010) > Rising Down (2008). Wake Up!, a soul collaboration between The Roots and John Legend, is worth checking out too (Psst! It’s got C.L. Smooth on it!). Quentin B. Huff


 

 



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Curren$y

Pilot Talk

(DD172; US: 13 Jul 2010; UK: 13 Jul 2010)

Review [20.Sep.2010]

4


Curren$y
Pilot Talk


Curren$y is one of those rare label drama stories that not only ends happily, but finds the artist getting comfortable in the perfect atmosphere for him to create and cultivate his brand. After extended stays with both Master P’s No Limit and Baby’s Cash Money, during which at best he was considered Lil’ Wayne’s nicest protegé, Curren$y set out with skater Terry Kennedy to create Fly Society. The intention was a marriage of the jazzy, smoked-out atmosphere of groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Camp Lo to the motivational, drug-oriented lyricism of mainstream southern music. While drama between the two led Curren$y to hand Kennedy the Fly Society brand and begin again with JETS International, it was the last bit of bad news Curren$y received before Dame Dash made his dreams come true. Pilot Talk, produced almost entirely by Curren$y’s favorite Ski Beatz, was perhaps the biggest surprise in a year of surprises. While Curren$y had always been a fresh, witty, stylish MC, for a long time it was often easy to drift away from his laconic delivery. But working with Ski seems to have pushed Curren$y to another level as a rapper, and focused him more than most artists. It’s true that all his songs are about weed, self-motivation, women, and cars, but it’s the way he and Ski present these timeless ideals that makes Pilot Talk such a gorgeous album. “Breakfast”, co-produced by Mos Def, is iconic of the album as a whole. No grand ambitions, no delusional grandeur. Just tight rhymes about the simple life Curren$y leads married to a fantastic trumpet and bass that perfectly evokes the vacation Curren$y wants to evoke. Other tracks like “Roasted” and “Life Under the Scope” would have been the pinnacle of production in 2010 if it weren’t for Kanye’s magnum opus. Pilot Talk is not an album that aims to surprise anyone, it’s just a brilliantly executed hip-hop album that makes the case for artists spending less time fantasizing and more time simply being themselves. In the process, it reveals itself to be one of the most endearing and listenable hip-hop albums in quite a while. David Amidon


 

 



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Big Boi

Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

(Def Jam; US: 6 Jul 2010; UK: 5 Jul 2010)

Review [6.Jul.2010]

3


Big Boi
Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty


Comedian Dave Chappelle once joked that the Sunny Delight commercials showed the white kids celebrating a chance to drink the juice, but the black kid in the background prefers the nutrient deficient liquid in the back of the fridge: “I want that purple stuff.” Well, when OutKast released Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2003, everyone seemed enamored with Andre 3000’s oddball and eclectic The Love Below disc, and I was like, “I want those Speakerboxxx joints.” If Andre 3000 is the hare, then Big Boi must seem like the tortoise, operating a bit more methodically, conceptualizing if not always rapping inside the lines, and enduring his solo album’s numerous delays. Finally, Big Boi shows us what he can do without his cohort’s idiosyncrasies since, except for the frenetic percussive beat of “You Ain’t No DJ”, Andre doesn’t appear.  Although we all know the Andre-assisted “Royal Flush” would’ve been a great addition, we are nevertheless treated to guests like Yelawolf, T.I., Janelle Monáe, George Clinton, Too Short, and Joi. I’m just happy he managed to get Jamie Foxx to stop doing his perpetual Ray Charles impression. Meanwhile, Big Boi’s rambunctious wit is stuffed with imagery and clever allusions, riding rich and varied production with aplomb.  Big Boi’s day isn’t populated with a lot of lofty ideas (mostly women and wordplay), but it’s his delivery and dense musical backdrops that help Daddy Fat Sax sidestep the mundane.  He writes “knock out songs” while y’all “spit punch lines for money”.  And sorry, haters: I (yuck face) untracked skits, but I (heart) the pop hooks. Quentin B. Huff


 

 



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Big K.R.I.T.

K.R.I.T. Wuz Here

(Direct Connect; US: 27 Jul 2010; UK: )

2


Big K.R.I.T.
K.R.I.T. Wuz Here


When Pimp C passed away in his sleep in December of 2007, an undeniable void was created in the culture of hip-hop. While plenty of artists have imitated portions of his style, from his funky, lush productions to his iconic nasal whine of a delivery and emphasis on pimping, no one was ever to captivate quite the same way Chad Butler could. His death was a shock to everyone, but equally shocking is that it didn’t actually take that long for that void to be filled. Big K.R.I.T., hailing from the woefully unrepresented Mississippi, has been milling about the mixtape scene since 2006, but K.R.I.T. Wuz Here stormed onto the Internet as a free album seemingly out of nowhere. Over 20 tracks, we’re introduced to the amazing production talents and mic skills of K.R.I.T. Shorthand for King Remembered in Time, the rapper is seemingly a master of whatever he puts his mind to. Whether its smoker anthems like “No Wheaties” and “Glass House”, conscious tracks like “Children of the World”, “Something”, and “Hometown Hero”, or the hard but not quite gangsta boom of “Return of 4eva” and “Country Shit”, K.R.I.T. deftly and effortlessly applied his talents and came out with a fantastic product. While the album can be somewhat hard to find these days—Def Jam signed him shortly after its release and put its foot down on most of the links—those who’ve had a chance to hear K.R.I.T. Wuz Here understand one thing clearly: not only is K.R.I.T. already worthy of the King moniker, he’s an MC that will undoubtedly be on the top of the pile for years to come. David Amidon


 

 



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Kanye West

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

(Def Jam; US: 22 Nov 2010; UK: 22 Nov 2010)

Review [23.Nov.2010]
Review [21.Nov.2010]

1


Kanye West
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy


Come on, y’all. When George W. Bush went public with his feelings about Kanye West, did you really think it was news? Like, did you think he’d say he was happy with Kanye’s post-Katrina comments? Of course not! So let’s ask the tough questions. Have the former Commander-in-Chief wear those Dr. Dre headphones, give him a soft pretzel to snack on, and ask him, seriously, what he thinks of Kanye’s beautiful dark twisted fantasies. Ask him this: “Mr. President, do you think Kanye West is a Chi-town nigga with a Nas flow?”  Or this: “Does everybody know Nicki Minaj is a motherfuckin’ monster? Because, quite frankly, I was a little on the fence about that.” I’d love to be the talk show host that gets him to say, “I mean this shit is fuckin’ ridiculous.”


My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is so fresh and so clean (clean), it’s hard to imagine it not being number one. Some say it’s too polished, too layered, too big for its own good. Yes, it is. “It insists upon itself,” Peter Griffin of Family Guy might say.  Yes, it does.  And here’s a little secret: It’s probably not the game-changing mega-moment that will rival the Beatles or Thriller or Dylan.  Or Purple Rain. I don’t even like it better than The Ecstatic. Instead of inventing a “prog-rap” category to describe it, think of it as Dr. Dre’s Chronic or, more appropriately, 2001, meeting El-P’s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead.


What I do love—more than playing “I Spy” with all the guest spots, more than the infinitesimal improvement in West’s flow, and more than his sample choices—is the sensory stimulation. There’s ear candy (all those instruments, voices, layers!). There’s eye candy (the videos, SNL performances, the album covers!). There are free but West-approved non-album tracks on the Internet. Even that weird 30-plus minute video got me, because it looked the way the album sounded. I love the attention to detail. I especially love the quirkiness: the way the beat drops out in Kanye’s opening verse; the vocal effects in Nicki Minaj’s Busta Rhymes-like spazz out; the lilt in her voice when Rihanna sings “want you to see EV’ry-THANG”; that deep distorted vocal in “Hell of a Life” that goes “fuck with the lights (fuck), with the (with the) lights on”; the fact that the songs have definitive endings, and don’t fade; the modest applause that’s the final sound of the album. I even dig that long vocoder solo. The only thing I would do differently is remove “Blame Game” (sorry, y’all and Chris Rock) and then add G.O.O.D. Friday tracks “Christian Dior Denim Flow”, “Chain Heavy”, and “Don’t Look Down”. I’d make it a double album for the price of a single. Wait a sec. I can already do that with my playlist, hunhhh! Now I’m trippin’ off the power. Quentin B. Huff


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