The Review of People Under The Stairs’ “Sincerely, The P”

The album “Sincerely, The P” by People Under The Stairs does exactly what it intended and give themselves a proper send-off into retirement.  The group announced before the release of the album that this will be their last and when you listen to “Sincerely, P” that feeling really resonates through the entire record.  The group started in 1996 and they take the listener to on a trip down memory lane and gives the world a very fond and thankful farewell.

The two-man group People Under The Stairs consists of Thes One (Christopher Portugal) and Double K (Michael Turner) that MC and produce the entire album.  The lyrics on the album let people in on where the group has been during their career but also lets the listener in on who they are as people.  Tracks like “The Redeemer” and “Here, for a Good Time” among others give a feeling of nostalgia that gives the audience a sense of peace, knowing that the group is retiring and in a good place.  Overall the lyrics are a wonderful balance of good-bye and braggadocios about how prolific People Under The Stairs think they are at the craft of making music.  When realizing that the group grew up in the Los Angeles hip-hop scene in the early to mid-’90s where acts like The Pharcyde and Jurassic-5 came up the lyrical flow and subject matter make even more sense.

The production of the “Sincerely, P” evokes an even bigger sense of nostalgia when listening to it.  People Under The Stairs embrace a backpack style production that thrives on loops and record scratching that is at the heart of early days of hip-hop.  The track “Hard” feels like a homage to Eric B and Rakim and gives the audience sentimentality towards not just the art form but the artists’ own lives and careers.  Even the loop samples have this pervasive feeling throughout the album as the songs like “Reach Out” samples Andre 3000’s vocal hook from “Ms. Jackson” to the theme from the show “Family Ties” on the song that shares its name.  The only real problem with the production of the album, in general, is that too many songs end with extended instrumentals that go on too long.  This isn’t to say that the musical production is bad quite the opposite but when in excess of ten minutes of the 56-minute album is instrumental fade out it does get tiresome.

Lovers of “old-school” hip-hop will thoroughly enjoy this record and should definitely give People Under The Stairs a deep dive since “Sincerely, The P” is a wonderful introduction to the group to people that never heard of the group.  That is what makes the album kinda genius as long-time fans will feel the group’s good-bye and know that they are in a good place but new listeners get a snapshot of who they are and what they are about.  The gift and the curse of being an underground group are that they never had anyone watch over them.  People Under The Stairs convey the message of who they are brilliantly but they just need an editor.

Source: https://www.genius.com

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The Review of Future’s “Future Hndrxx Presents: The WIZRD

Sparky dives into Future’s new album for The Combine

The new Future album “Future Hndrxx Presents: The WIZRD” or as I will shorten for the rest of the review “The Wizrd” is a very mixed bag.   “The Wizrd” is also the twelfth album or mixtape that Future has put out since 2012 and that does include Future’s collaborative efforts.  This record definitely has some highs and some lows but when an artist chooses to produce this much material in such a short span of time there will be some hits and misses.

The lyrics on “The Wizrd” are not the most interesting part of this album.  For the most part, Future’s topics are wealth, material possessions, crime and having less than healthy relationships with female partners.  That’s fine but with the album having twenty tracks and running at over an hour the record sometimes becomes taxing to listen to in its entirety.  There is also some guest appearances on “The Wizrd” as well with Gunna & Young Thug on the track “Unicorn Purp”.  Also, Travis Scott is featured on the track “First Off”.  The features do very little to enhance the tracks that they are on as the artists feel uninspired. It feels more like they are there to just kinda help out a little similar to that friend that helps you move but only carries the light boxes.

The delivery of the lyrics on “The Wizrd” is better than it has been in the past for Future where he is more decipherable than normal but still mumbles more often than not.  This creates a listening experience where instead of trying to discover interesting wordplay and expressive language you are reading lyrics just to make heads or tails of what is being said.  That’s fine for some but personally, it leads to a less than enjoyable experience.  Also on “The Wizrd” Future uses less autotune than normal but at times when it is used the effects that are added to the vocals make the lyrics even less intelligible.

The production on “The Wizrd” is the more interesting part.  Most trap records have oversimplified beats that lack many nuances but here that isn’t the case.  Many of the tracks layer the percussion to interesting places where the loops seem to cascade into one another and make the listening experience richer than standard trap music.  Also, the tempos can sometimes change very abruptly during a song that not just flows with the lyrics but makes them feel more vibrant like in the track “F & N”.  Besides the tempo changes, there are times on “The Wizrd” where the beat completely drops off and lets Future shine or adds spacey ambient parts to the beats as well to enhance songs which added a nice variety to the production as well.

For fans of Future or trap music, in general, “The Wizrd” isn’t a bad record and probably sounds great in a car as well.  If you don’t enjoy “mumble rap” run from this record as the lyrical delivery will become extremely tiresome.  I personally don’t have a strong feeling either way for this album but I could see myself if Future ever released just an instrumental version of this album adding some of the tracks to my writing playlist but that rarely happens for trap albums so I doubt I will voluntarily listen to any of the tracks off of “The Wizrd” ever again.

 

Source:  https://www.genius.com

The Review Of Malibu Ken’s “Malibu Ken”

In the newest edition of Combine Culture, Sparky reviews “Malibu Ken” by Malibu Ken

Malibu Ken is a collaboration of rapper Aesop Rock and producer TOBACCO.  Aesop Rock isn’t a name that many are familiar with.  Aesop Rock is a hip-hop MC with incredible use of wordplay along with his tremendous vocabulary and figurative language in his verses has garnered him a very strong and faithful fanbase.  TOBACCO is an electronic musician is mostly known from his work with the rock band Black Moth Super Rainbow.  With this collaboration, both musicians perfectly blend their strengths to create a very unique listening experience.

When the album first starts you know that “Malibu Ken” is not your standard fare when it comes to hip-hop.  From the first track “Corn Maze” TOBACCO’s use of layered analog synth beats with additional melody overcomes you then you are floored by waves of crazy lyricism.  Aesop Rock just effortlessly flows over the beat and gives the listener so much to dissect that you want to listen with the lyrics to not just keep up but also unpack everything he says.  In fact, every track is like that where you just feel like line after line not just flows to the next so easily but also packs so much into his rhymes them that you’re left wondering how he does it.

Besides the skill that Aesop Rock exudes on “Malibu Ken” it is also his soul as well with many of the tracks.  On tracks like “Tuesday” he digs deep into his life and how disgusted he feels with himself and how the world perceives him.  Other songs like “Dog Years” and “1+1=13” further divulge his mental state and how he grew up.  But not every song on “Malibu Ken” is so deep and introspective with the song “Churro” having very funny and slightly tragic undertones that with a little digging may upset some but also displays a wonderful storytelling skill that is impressive to listen to.

The production on “Malibu Ken” is very unique.  With more and more musicians using modern technology to make music, it is surprising to hear older instruments used in the making of hip-hop.  TOBACCO uses analog synthesizers to creates layered dream-like beats in some tracks and very diminutive simple beats on other tracks.  Both Aesop Rock and TOBACCO feel like they share a singular mind as the lyrics and instrumentals rarely compete with one another but instead just enhance each other to glorious effects.  The only gripe I have with the music production is that it fades for too long at the end of some songs and it feels like the album as whole loses momentum at times.

To fully encapsulate “Malibu Ken” for potential listeners it is great to not just show the musical heights that hip-hop can achieve but also show the skill these musicians can possess.  If you want just your standard rap album with the same subject matter as normal you will definitely want to avoid “Malibu Ken” as it stretches the normal boundaries of writing and musicianship in hip-hop.  If you want to see what the art form of hip-hop can be by two artists that wanted to craft something that is truly special, please give this a listen.

 

 

Source:  https://www.genius.com

The Review of Comethazine “Bawskee 2”

In the newest edition of Combine Culture, Sparky reviews “Bawskee 2” by Comethazine

In case you the reader didn’t know not all trap music is the same and the album “Bawksee 2” by Comethazine proves that beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Trap music can be one of the most energetic forms of rap and if done right can not only be awesome to listen to in your car but also really allow a lyricist to show off their skills due to less intricate production.  This what brings me to “Bawksee 2” it isn’t just simple in production but also doesn’t seem very inspired.

On “Bawksee 2” Comethazine lyrical content is not very creative and many times feels lazy and tired.  It is normal for many rappers to use crime, drugs, violence, and sex as regular topics of songs but usually, it is either to detail the situation that the artist comes from but then go further into their psyche and lets the audience know how it shaped them or how they are still being affected by these themes.  Well, Comethazine just lets the listener know what atrocities he is doing without any further context.   Many times during the album it seems both contrived and forced and most of the time.  It is almost like Comethazine is trying to pander to the audience and not reach them.  Throughout “Bawksee 2″  he just matters of factly tells you about the acts he is going to commit and doesn’t make you feel his story or struggle.

The production on Bawksee 2” is what it is.  It is a trap album and while the production is very simple and it is mostly percussion loops that are enhanced by different instrument loops.  If this is how we are grading the production of “Bawksee 2” it is passable as the production is clean throughout the entirety of the album and has the definite feel of a trap record.  Songs feel foreboding and very grim but the beat still lets Comethazine have priority instead of the music.  The problem with the instrumentals is that they aren’t progressing musically at all and it feels like it was made a decade ago.

When listening to “Bawksee 2”  I was kept wanting more either musically or lyrically and never got it.  Both instrumentals and lyrics seem like both the producers and Comethazine just got in and got out of the studio and weren’t motivated at all and just wanted to release an album to further the notoriety of Comethazine, since the album came out when not much else was released at this time.  If you enjoy trap hip-hop I would either recommend going back to the classics or even some albums from just last year.  If you are looking to get into this subgenre of hip-hop I wouldn’t start with “Bawksee 2” and if you enjoy trap I would just listen to the stuff you already have and avoid this record like the plague.

 

Source: https://genius.com

Combine Culture: Favorite Hip-Hop Albums Of 2018

Sparky finishes up 2018 Combine Culture with his top 10 Hip-Hop albums of the year

The year 2018 has come to the end and before the new year starts kicking into high gear I am taking a look back at 2018.  These were my favorite albums of 2018 and without further ado here is the list:

 

Honorable Mention: Logic: “Bobby Tarantino II”/”YSIV”

Neither album would make the list for this year but I had to give Logic some props for two very good albums.  I enjoyed the entirety of “Bobby Tarantino II more as it was filled with just banger after banger that allowed Logic’s lyrical skills shine.  The reason why “YSIV” is on the list is that it also has some solid tracks but most importantly it has one of my favorite tracks of the year and best feature on any album this year as well on the track “Wu-Tang Forever”.  On the song “Wu-Tang Forever”  all of the living members of Wu-Tang Clan get their chance to shine on the song.  The track clocks in at eight minutes and eight seconds and with no chorus or hooks it just lets these talented rappers show their skills.

#10. Vince Staples “FM!”

On this album, Vince Staples continues to progress as not only a rapper but an artist in general.  On “FM!” Staples’ raps flow effortlessly on the beats and his subject matter while very gritty doesn’t feel like impending doom but instead, it feels like a beautiful struggle of living in an urban wasteland.  The production of “FM!” is done by Loudpvck and this is the first time they have done an album together but this album still feels familiar to the work Staples had done on the breakout album “Summertime 06”.

#9. Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs, and The Alchemist “Fetti”

This was an awesome collaborative album but two solid MCs and producer The Alchemist.  This is the second time that this trio has worked together with the other being track “Scottie Pippen” on the record “Covert Coup”.  The album is impeccably produced where tracks weave from one track to the other seamlessly and have a very clean retro feel reminiscent of 90’s boom-bap style.  Both Curren$y and Freddie Gibbs are great MCs that work great together and their flows bounce off one another and feel extremely organic.

#8. Czarface and MF Doom “Czarface Meets Metal Face”

When I heard this album was coming I wasn’t just pumped I was elated.  MF Doom is a lesser known MC that hasn’t put out a full album since 2009 and his absence is wrapped in mystery.  Czarface is a rap trio of 7L, Esoteric and Wu-Tang Clan member Inspectah Deck.  The production for “Czarface Meets Metal Face” was done by Czarface and feels perfect in their discography.  The beats very dramatic and have a Saturday morning cartoon meets B-movie soundtrack feel.  The music is purposeful and foreboding at times to eccentric and almost zany.  The lyricism is off the wall with tons of pop culture references that span wrestling, TV, movies and even comics.

#7. Noname “Room 25”

This album truly took me by surprise.  Noname is a female MC that is tremendously talented and “Room 25” is her debut album and definitely shows off her skills.  Her lyrics are very introspective where she is not just finding her inner strength and beauty but her place in the world as well.  Her flow isn’t forceful but rather tender and sincere.  The production on “Room 25” only enhances Noname’s lyrics with smooth and soulful beats.

#6. Kids See Ghosts “Kids See Ghosts”

This was the album by the super duo Kid Cudi and Kanye West.  This album is very experimental but tremendously produce.  The blend of singing and rapping on “Kids See Ghosts” is stellar and shows off the talents of both artists beautifully.  The features on “Kids See Ghosts” are also awesome with Pusha T and Yasiin Bey/Mos Def lend their talents to a couple of tracks.

#5. Death Grips “Year Of The Snitch”

The album “Year Of The Snitch” is a sonic kick in the face.  The lyrics on this album aren’t the most important thing with a couple of tracks even being instrumentals.  What makes “Year Of The Snitch” so amazing is its musicianship.  When listening to this I was certain that every song had to have multiple samples considering how dense and layered every song is but to my surprise only 4 of the 13 songs even had samples.  The album as a whole is a crazy abstract hip-hop gumbo of metal, punk, rock and industrial music blended together.

#4. Earl Sweatshirt “Some Rap Songs”

I did a full album review of this album on this site a couple of weeks ago so I will keep this overview of “Some Rap Songs” short and sweet.  “Some Rap Songs” is an amazing record that may be minimalistic in production but still very grim and gloomy.  The songs don’t have any real hooks or choruses but the lyrics very introspective and deal with loss and depression.  Earl Sweatshirt crafted an album here that will not only be considered amazing now but could be this generation’s Madvillain “Madvillainy”.

 

#3. JPEGMAFIA “Veteran”

The album “Veteran” by JPEGMAFIA is a sonic tour de force for hip-hop.  It is an interesting mix of traditional rap and instrumentals.  Every song on “Veteran” feels unique from the previous one but still, everything fits harmoniously.  The tempo and instrumentation on “Veteran” are off-kilter and abstract but done in a way that doesn’t feel forceful.  Besides the production being unorthodox so are the lyrics.  Lyrically the album goes from sarcastic to angry to even vulnerable all in the same song at times.

#2. Royce Da 5’9″ “Book Of Ryan”

Royce Da 5’9″ may have decades in the rap game but “Book Of Ryan” is no doubt the best album of his career.  The album is extremely introspective with at times Royce Da 5’9″ even stating that he was making the album so that he could explain his life to his son.  The lyrics are not only personal but extremely dense and can go from vulnerable to very braggadocious and then back again flawlessly.  “Book Of Ryan” also has amazing features as well with heavy hitters like Eminem, J. Cole, and Pusha T just to name a few all on the album as well.

#1. Pusha T “Daytona”

This was my favorite album of the year and it hasn’t changed since the day it came out.  The production on “Daytona” by Kanye West is some of his most dark and foreboding since Yeezus in 2013.  The production is not just dark but it is also very precise and at times becomes very sparse to let Pusha T lyrics breathe.  Speaking of Pusha T, “Daytona” is one of his best albums lyrically where he balances the gritty with the bombastic.  This album also started probably the biggest rap beef of the year with the diss track “Infrared” that pitted the artist Drake up against Pusha T.

 

 

The Review of Jonwayne’s “Yuletide Bangerz”

In the Christmas edition of Combine Culture, Sparky reviews Jonwayne’s “Yuletide Bangerz”

This week I decided to give a review to Jonwayne’s “Yuletide Bangerz”.  I figured it would give you the reader time to check out the album before Christmas and potentially Christmas parties that may happen this weekend.  If you haven’t heard of rapper/producer Jonwayne that is completely understandable since most hip-hop fans aren’t familiar with him.  He is considered an underground rapper and definitely doesn’t get radio play.  The other thing that makes this album even more surprising is that Jonwayne is a very self-reflective artist that many would deem depressing and raw with his emotions which makes this record even more jarring.

This album is what is called a beat album where yes there are some lyrics and singing but they are sparse and far from a focal point.  “Yuletide Bangerz” like the rest of Jonwayne’s discography has songs that have very focused beat but a layered in a meticulous way and can be very sample heavy.  The samples in “Yuletide Bangerz” are either classic Christmas songs or from samples of dialog from famous Christmas movies and episodes of television.  The song “Sticky Bandits” is a layered track that takes parts from the movie “Home Alone” and weaves them smooth snare drum percussion groove that transforms a tired Christmas classic to a song that you can bob your head to.  Also in the album, the song “Tis The Season” samples the Muppets and creates a silly scat from a Muppet and transforms it into a fun song with a funky groove.

“Yuletide Bangerz” has already performed a couple of Christmas miracles and it isn’t even December 25th yet.  It sampled the dreadfully annoying song “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney and actually made a cool song by adding a spaced-out synth groove with additional percussion elements to it.  The second Christmas miracle is using dialog from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie “Jingle All The Way” in an artistic way which is something that no one on earth thought could happen.  Other very recognizable samples on this record are by Christmas heavy hitters like Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and yes even Mariah Carey.

For the most part, this is a very fun that will not just catch hip-hop heads but fans of Christmas music off guard with not only the quality of the album but the reverential treatment that the music and dialog samples are given.  This album is perfect for most Christmas parties as long as there aren’t any small children just because of the samples from National Lampoon’s Christmas vacation have some salty language.  I am still flabbergasted by this but this does for Christmas albums what J Dilla’s “Donuts” did for hip-hop.  It shows not just a respect for the samples and music being used but expands the potential for the genre of music.

*Writer’s Note* This album isn’t available on most streaming apps but can be found on the bandcamp app.

 

Source:  whosampled.com

The Review Of Ice Cube’s “Everythang’s Corrupt”

In his latest edition of Combine Culture, Sparky reviews Ice Cube’s newest album “Everythang’s Corrupt”

When listening to Ice Cube’s new album “Everythang’s Corrupt” I couldn’t help but think that Ice Cube has turned into the hip-hop equivalent of the aging rock star and how he fits into Sick Boy’s “Unifying Theory Of Life” from the movie “Trainspotting” (careful clip isn’t safe for work, but is available down below).  If you can’t watch the clip I will paraphrase it, with artists they have a strong peak and then once they are beyond their peak they are never really as good and everything else they do after their peak is hot garbage.  Well, that is what “Everythang’s Corrupt” is.

There are many problems with “Everythang’s Corrupt” by Ice Cube the first is probably Ice Cube himself.  I do believe that what Ice Cube is saying he feels and has experienced but it seems like he is trying to force that feeling.  In Ice Cube’s work with N.W.A. and his first four solo albums, he had a raw intensity and a menacing experience.  Now it doesn’t have the same fervor and the lyrics come across as contrived.  The track “Still In The Kitchen” perfectly encapsulates this where Ice Cube raps about still working hard and still having that same anger and drive.  In this and most of the tracks, he just sounds like he was obligated to rap like that.

The production of Ice Cube’s “Everythang’s Corrupt” is another factor that lead to my dislike of the album.  The simplistic but theatrical beats have been what Cube has been using since “War And Peace Volume 1” and that was 20 years ago.  The thing I don’t understand is when many artists get older they experiment and sometimes the results are poor Cube went the other way and just thought I like this one sound and won’t change.

There were some bright spots on “Everythang’s Corrupt” but they were very hard to find.  The song “Ain’t Got No Haters” is a song that evokes a lot of nostalgia and feels very reminiscent of the “Lethal Injection” period of Ice Cube’s career and felt like a slight breathe of fresh air in comparison to the rest of the stale production.  Also the track “The New Funkadelic” was an enjoyable song that had a nice bounce and lighter feel.  The last good track on the album was “Good Cop Bad Cop” but that was a song on the reissue of Ice Cube’s legendary record “Death Certificate” from two years ago.

If you have never heard of Ice Cube I would recommend the first N.W.A. album or the first four Ice Cube solo records.  That’s where Cube was at his best and really made listeners feel his emotion and thoughts.  Now Ice Cube still has the same thoughts but hasn’t evolved the way he delivers them and it just became derivative of his own work.  I would tell readers to check out the songs I mentioned that were bright spots and skip the rest.

I do have a note for readers.  The rest of the year is very sparse with upcoming album releases so I will be reviewing stuff from this week’s release and last week.  I apologize for this but I can’t control the music industry.

 

 

*Photo by Adam Bielawski

Source http://www.genius.com