Category Archives: hip-hop

Homeboy Sandman: Fat Belly (video)

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When you name a song “Fat Belly,” there’s obviously not some deeper meaning to decipher or literary metaphor to unravel: Homeboy Sandman is a fan of food and he’s going to write a damn rap song about it. So there.

We all have some weird relationship with food: We eat too much of it, not enough of it or post pictures of it to Facebook. When there’s so much anxiety about what we’re eating (“recent studies show that … “) and what it means for our image, I love that Homeboy Sandman can just celebrate food for what it is, free of all the guilt.

There’s some great, feel-good one-liners in here with a little clever wordplay: “If you’ve ever seen me turn down pasta / I promise you it wasn’t me it was an impostor.”

“Fat Belly” is part of the White Sands EP, with beats by the London-based producer Paul White. Dig it, on Stones Throw.

Zilla Rocca: Neo Noir

Zilla Rocca

When I emerged from my hibernation – don’t call it a comeback – one of the first people to welcome me back was Zilla Rocca, Philly’s noir-hop Mad Man.

I’ve gotten to know Zilla a bit over the years, so I feel bad that my inactivity on the site meant not continuing to spread the word about him and his crew. Consider this an attempt to rectify that.

Last year saw Zilla Rocca release Neo Noir, his first mixtape since 2008′s Bring Me the Head of Zilla Rocca, with appearances from his Wrecking Crew mates (Curly Castro and Has-Lo), doseone, PremRock, Elucid and Dewey Decibel.

Without trying to sound cliche, what strikes me here as I dig deeper into Neo Noir is Zilla Rocca’s maturity – a man eager to embrace his 30s and beyond. About 10 years ago, my wife and I bought our first house, despite the fact that I didn’t have the first clue what we were doing. But then one day you’re paying a mortgage, reading about interest rates, walking a dog and calling a Saturday of Netflix binge-watching a damn good night.

It’s great to see this development in Zilla, who is now engaged and in the process of house hunting. I caught up with him – over some quality bourbon –  when he made it out to Arizona with PremRock and Curly Castro for a pair of shows in November, and it wasn’t hard to get the sense that this is a guy who has found a comfortable balance, in his life and music (finding the right partner can do that).

But you don’t even have to be friends with him to see it. It’s all right there in his music. Listen to “2 Dollar Lunches” (featuring Has-Lo) to see where his head is at:

“I want to get the blood stains out with OxyClean /
I want to buy an old slot machine /
Sick of landlords, I want to own property.”

And then: “I save money, one day I’ll be outta debt /
And buy avocados instead of Alpha Bits.”

Another standout is “Never Tell Them You’re a Rapper,” featuring PremRock, a candid indictment of their rap reality. It’s funny because it’s true.

“Hate when people ask me, ‘What kind of music do you do?’ /
I say, ‘hip-hop’ /
They say, ‘Dude … no seriously, what kind of music do you do?’”

Pick up Neo Noir right here, and it looks like we have a 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers follow-up to look forward to in 2014.

Eric Steuer: The Best Way To Tell You Is To Say It In A Rhyme

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You might remember Eric Steuer (aka Cuzzo D.) from his “Bad at Rap” mix – one of the most incredible/terrible things you’ll listen to – and now the man who also makes up half of Meanest Man Contest is back with more.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes his latest: “The Best Way To Tell You Is To Say It In A Rhyme.” Steuer put together this collection of tender rap songs for Hit City U.S.A.’s “Nice Touch” mix tape series. It’s available for $5 in cassette form – cheaper than a box of chocolates, which is so played out anyway – or you can stream the two sides below.

I got to meet and chat with Steuer in San Francisco last year, and we rapped a bit about the fetishism of collecting – records, books, baseball cards, whatever. He clearly has vast knowledge and probably a deep collection of music to back it up, taking up space somewhere – a closet, a hard drive, his brain. This is museum-level curating of the obscure/offbeat/oft-forgotten rap of yore.

And about that image up there: Steuer recently became a father for the first time (congrats again!), and he started a Tumblr called Nocturnal Commissions, in which he commissions an artist at Fiverr to turn a photo of his “puffy, creased, new-dad-in-the-middle-of-the-night face” into a portrait for the world to see. I bet his son will get a kick out of looking at these later in life.

SIDE A:
1. Raheem – “You’re the Greatest”
2. Rated X – “Be Cool to Your Girl”
3. L.A. Dream Team – “You’re Just Too Young”
4. M.C. Shy-D – “I Don’t Want to Treat You Wrong”
5. Black Rock & Ron – “True Feelings”
6. Misty D – “Out On a Limb”

SIDE B:
1. Hansoul – “Imagination (Philly Cheesesteak Mix)”
2. Little Shawn – “I Made Love (4 Da Very 1st Time)”
3. Yo-Yo – “Tonight’s the Night”
4. Kwamé – “Hai Love”
5. Prince Markie Dee and the Soul Convention – “Typical Reasons (Swing My Way)”
6. Nikki D – “All About You”
7. Brotherhood Creed – “Helluva”

Meanest Man Contest: Everything Worth Mentioning

Meanest Man Contest - Everything Worth Mentioning
If you’ve been paying attention over the years, you’ve probably already heard/collected a good portion of the new Meanest Man Contest album, Everything Worth Mentioning, coming out Oct. 29 on Gold Robot Records.

Yes, the album marks the first since 2003′s acclaimed Merit for the Bay Area duo of Noah Blumberg (aka Quarterbar) and Eric Steuer (aka Eriksolo). But in the years that followed, MMC released a series of singles, EPs, remixes – and the best of those songs (along with a new one, “In the Dark,” and some other unreleased demos and such) make up the collection on Everything Worth Mentioning.

Steuer told me: “The idea was to take a look at the dozens of songs we’d done since our first (and only) album, throw out everything that didn’t hold up, and remix, remaster, and in some cases re-record the stuff we liked the best.”

Aside from tying loose ends into a cohesive album, the idea of confronting your own work for self-judgment 10 years later seems daunting. But there are so many highlights here that I’ve raved about in the past: There’s “Partially Smart” and “You Don’t Wanna Know” and (one of my favorites) “Throwing Away Broken Electronics.”

Gold Robot and MMC have made a stream/download available of the new one, “In the Dark,” a synth-heavy track that veers off the hip-hop course and show’s the duo’s range and penchant for experimenting.

You can order “Everything Worth Mentioning” on 12-inch white vinyl, which is limited to 250 copies, via Gold Robot.

Open Mike Eagle: Middling (and July 11 show at Crescent Ballroom)

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Well, now you’ve done it. You’ve gone and pissed Open Mike Eagle off. And in a mere three minutes and seven seconds, he’s scorched every last feeble rapper on “Middling,” a track off his new Sir Rockabye EP (yep).

This feels like some serious catharsis, the most aggressive/clever of diss tracks. Not even the diss-ees will get it. Mike Eagle cuts where it hurts the most, over the piano-loop production of Quelle Chris: “You eat plain frozen yogurt / and won’t know what to do when reality shows are over / I’d like to stick your head in an empty can of Folgers / I got with your member card from your local grocer.” This is Mike at his meanest, and I love it (“Pick a thing and you’ll ruin it.”). But even he softens the blow, admitting at one point: “OK, that was kind of mean.”

Like all Mike Eagle tracks, “Middling” demands your line-for-line attention. Don’t blink or you’ll miss a joke.

What you shouldn’t miss (segue!) is Mike Eagle opening for Dessa at Crescent Ballroom on July 11. But seriously, check out more Open Mike Eagle.

Vampire Weekend: Step, as inspired by Souls of Mischief’s Step to My Girl

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Musical synergy works best when you least expect it, offering a sense of surprise and inspiration all at once.

I knew the guys in Vampire Weekend were fans of hip-hop from past interviews, but I’d barely listened to the new album, let alone read the countless articles about it, before digging into Modern Vampires of the City on a vacation last week that required some road-trip material.

And that’s when “Step” stopped me dead in my tracks. The album’s third song stirred my subconscious, gently reminding me of a Souls of Mischief demo from long ago called “Step to My Girl.” The title was an obvious link, not to mention the familiar melody and chorus (you have no idea how much time I spent on the Hieroglyphics message boards back in the day). It all clicked – in one beautiful, mind-blowing moment in the car with my wife somewhere between Louisville and Cincinnati. Did Vampire Weekend really dig into Souls of Mischief demos to construct this ode 20 years after the fact? Was I really this excited about it? Yes and yes.

A Google search turned up my answer (and confirmed that I need to stay on top of music news more often). Singer Ezra Koenig told NPR in May:

“Souls Of Mischief I’ve always loved. I kind of associate them with the first time that I really started become a music fan as a young teenager. This song apparently was recorded around the time of their first album, which was called 93 ’til Infinity, but it never made the record and it floated around as a bootleg for awhile. I only discovered it five or six years ago but it always really stuck with me, especially the chorus. I didn’t know where it came from but they’re kind of like scratching somebody saying, “Every time I see you in the world, you always step to my girl.” Slowly as I listened to this song, I found myself kind of writing this alternate song based on that phrase. Later we found out that that in of itself is a sample from a rapper called YZ. We didn’t know that at the time. This was kind of the inspiration to write this other song that became ‘Step.’”

Even two months before that, in March, Koenig referred to the Souls influence on Twitter: “Who’s gonna draw out the Step family tree? Souls of Mischief (shoutout 2 those legends), of course, but then it gets a lil more complicated.”

Adding to the story line is the fact that Souls of Mischief have embarked on the “Still Infinity” tour (Aug. 14 at Club Red in Tempe) to mark the 20th anniversary of the release of 93 ’til Infinity, a favorite of mine and a downright classic. It’s clear I love when indie rock and hip-hop commingle, and twenty years later, it’s cool to see Souls’ influence at work in a most unexpected way.

DJ Nu-Mark: Don’t Play Around (feat. Aloe Blacc and Charles Bradley)

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I’ll forever have love for Jurassic 5, so even six years after the L.A. hip-hop idols broke up, curiosity pulled me back in (and now they’re on the comeback trail at Coachella). That’s a good thing. I might have otherwise overlooked this new single from Nu-Mark, one of J5′s two DJs (along with the esteemed Cut Chemist).

Nu-Mark released his debut full-length Broken Sunlight, and he’s been releasing songs as a series of 10-inch records over the past year or so. It’s an innovative method, but what do you expect from a guy that can rock toy instruments in a live set?

I’ve said it before, but one of my favorite live moments was seeing Z-Trip, Radar, Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark perform on an otherwise quiet Sunday night in Tempe at a bar called Mustang Sally’s in a secret-style show one day after J5 played the Nile Theater. I still can’t even believe I saw that. Much as I bemoan the constant smartphone recording of shows these days, I’d kill for some footage of that night now.

But back to Nu-Mark … the most recent release in the Broken Sunlight series, Don’t Play Around, is pure soul, showcasing the amazing vocals of Aloe Blacc and Charles Bradley over one bad-ass beat. Can the drummer get some?

Says Nu-Mark at Rolling Stone: “I did a lot of vocal experimentation for Broken Sunlight. Charles Bradley and Aloe Blacc were a perfect fit, capturing the raw heartache of best friends dating the same women.”

Cadence Weapon: Hype Man (video)

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Lately, I’m constantly reminded of albums I overlooked or neglected to pay enough attention to in 2012. Cadence Weapon’s Hope In Dirt City falls into the latter category.

The third album by the Edmonton rapper (born Rollie Pemberton) is a bit of a mixed bag stylistically – more challenging of a listen, if not a touch incohesive. What remains a constant is Cadence Weapon’s awareness of his surroundings and his ability to sharply criticize all manners of culture (he is a former Pitchfork contributor, after all).

Hype Man takes a shot at the rap game. It’s a two-verse track, with Cadence Weapon playing the part of both sides: the ego-driven rap star (“At the strip club make sure that my song plays”) and the inglorious hype man, begging for a break from his famous connection (“I’d take a bullet / I’d probably pull it”). The tension comes to a head at the end of this video, co-directed by Cadence and George Vale.

I love this track because I’ve always been sort of fascinated by the tragic character that is the hype man, who dutifully waves his towel and drops in for every fourth word at a live show. And in this instance, the video draws a conclusion that you couldn’t really expect just by listening to the song. It’s the demise of the lowly hype man. There will always be another.

Cuzzo D. of Not the 1s: Bad at Rap mix

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It takes a special type of dedication – a sick and twisted dedication – to seek out and collect bad rap for the past 25 years. Eric Steuer (aka Cuzzo D. of Not the 1s and also half of the great Meanest Man Contest) has done just that. There is no doubt plenty from which to choose.

Steuer has compiled a treasure/trash trove of some of the greatest worst raps you can imagine. It literally took everything in me to make it through Mr. T’s “I Am Somebody.” Not surprisingly, a few athletes show up on the mix (Darryl Strawberry and Ron Artest), but the real gem here might be Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who unbelievably tried his hand at rap with “Smart Girls” (produced by Matt Dike, no less). WFMU has the story on it here.

Says Steuer: “I’ve been collecting bad rap songs since I first heard Darryl Strawberry kick his endearingly wack verse on “Chocolate Strawberry” back in 1987. This mix is made up mostly of stuff from the late ’80s and early ’90s (the golden era of cynical, inept stabs at cashing in on hip-hop’s popularity), although I threw in a couple of newer terrible raps at the end, to keep things fresh & current. I just started working on the second volume of this mix, and my fingers are crossed that Denny “Average Homeboy” Blaze will record a drop for it (he turned me down for this one).”

Bad rap never sounded so good.

Download and/or stream the mix over at Dublab. The track listing is below.

1. DC Talk – I Luv Rap Music
2. Outlaw Posse (f/ David Faustino) – Brand New Star
3. Icy Blu – It’s Your Birthday
4. Mr. T – I Am Somebody
5. Darryl Strawberry – Chocolate Strawberry
6. Hulk Hogan and The Wrestling Boot Band – Beach Patrol
7. A to the D – The Renegade Jew
8. Dee Dee King (aka Dee Dee Ramone) – German Kid
9. Brian Wilson – Smart Girls
10. MC Skat Kat and the Stray Mob – I Ain’t No Kitty
11. Vanilla Ice – Havin’ a Roni
12. Biscuit – Biscuit’s in the House
13. Elvira – Monsta’ Rap
14. Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks – City of Crime
15. Surf MC’s – Can’t Get a Tan
16. 2 Bigg MC – High on Your Love
17. Joey Lawrence – I Like the Way (Kick da Smoove Groove)
18. Gerardo – My Name Is Not Rico
19. Aaron Carter – That’s How I Beat Shaq
20. Ron Artest – Michael Michael
21. Kids Hit Masters – Crank That (Soulja Boy)

New Serengeti: Breaking Vows

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Every year in December, as I comb over my favorite songs to include on a year-end CD to give to friends — Spotify is too easy; an 80-minute CD-R has a way of forcing you to self-edit — it becomes abundantly clear that I never listen to enough. Whether it’s time or patience I’m lacking, it seems harder each year to consume so much music.

In some ways, I guess I’d rather form a deeper relationship with a few albums than have just a passing interest in many. To that end, a handful of albums captivated me in 2012, including C.A.R. by Chicago-bred rapper Serengeti. (I beg of you to listen — and then keep listening — to Go Dancin, a crushing song built on the vacant promises of a crumbling relationship. “It’s different now, I’ll show you how.” Of course it made the year-end mix.)

In keeping with his prolific output — check out the Beak & Claw EP (a side project with Sufjan Stevens and Son Lux) and the Kenny Dennis EP from last year, not to mention 2011′s Family & Friends — Serengeti will be back with a new album in 2013. It’s called Saal, and it was produced by Sicker Man and will be released on Feb. 12 on Graveface Records.

Serengeti treads into more relationship territory on Breaking Vows, a bonus digital-only track. Listen below:

Here’s the tracklist for Saal (via Graveface):
1. Karate
2. Seasons
3. Accommodating
4. Day By Day
5. Glassell Park
6. Wedding
7. I Could Redo
8. Erotic City
9. All the Time (bonus track on CD)
10. Breaking Vows (bonus digital-only track)

Lastly, here’s a short clip of Serengeti and Sicker Man in the studio creating Breaking Vows: