Category Archives: The Latest Playlist

2016 IN REVIEW

I didn’t post anything in 2016 but there was plenty to post about. Below are some of my favorite highlights of 2016. Check the following Playlists, Albums, Music Videos, and Rap Battles for my personal run-down of the year.


The Latest Playlist: 2016

*Track listing at bottom of post


Notable Albums of 2016

First I should mention that there were many important albums worthy of writing about that came out last year, including respectable projects from Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, J Cole, Danny Brown, Aesop Rock, Atmosphere, Kool Keith, De La Soul and Common just to name a few. Despite the plethora of albums to review, I felt compelled to write about two in particular.

KA – Honor Killed the Samurai

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Honor Killed the Samurai is a concept album that has a strong cinematic quality and captivating story. The tensely ominous instrumentals set the scene for Ka’s character; a wise and experienced criminal who has done everything necessary (often regrettably) to survive his dangerous environment. The “Samurai” is referenced both thematically in the instrumentals and with direct samples of old Samurai movies.

Ka does not proclaim himself a Samurai or even reference it in his lyrics. Instead he tells detailed stories of having a difficult upbringing and committing “grimy street crimes”. While shooting people and selling drugs are not new topics in hip hop, Ka addresses them with a heavy heart, minimizing the glorification and highlighting the guilt and repercussions. Ka’s character is more of an elder Mafioso who is contrasted stylistically with the concept and sound of Samurai.  Through expert-level multisyllabic flow structure, Ka tells vivid tales of his difficult past, warning those faced with the challenges he once was.

So I stood on mine, during the hoodest time 

Was a nightmare, felt like life here was as good as dying

We was born in the thorns, few arose

Once a town’s noose, now in soundproofs pursuing golds

Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3

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After Run The Jewels & Run The Jewels 2, the expectations for Run The Jewels 3 were raised to unreachable heights, but nonetheless Killer Mike & EL-P delivered. Scheduled for January 2017, they blessed us all with an early release in December, making RTJ3 my favorite and debatably the best hip-hop album of 2016.

First of all, the production on this album (like its’ predecessors) is incredible. The RTJ sound is uniquely discernable from anything else in existence, and EL-P’s signature apocalyptic production has nearly reached it’s final form. Every beat is deeply layered with industrial, hazardous, and robotic rhythms, turntable scratching, voice samples, intricate drums, and a variety of carefully placed sound effects & synths.

Much of the lyrical content on RTJ3 is the same off the wall, do whatever the fuck we want style seen in RTJ2. In addition, this project covers a wide variety of content from track to track, at the forefront of which are politics and current events. Many of the braggadocios lines on this project serve dually as classic hip-hop boasting and a reflection of the arrogant bully-type attitudes seen in many political leaders. A prime example of this is in the DJ Shadow music video that RTJ featured on for the track “Nobody Speak” which was released in August. When Run The Jewels 3 came out a lot of the lyrics made me think of this video (see below).

Personally I believe this duo is the best thing happening in hop-hop right now. They sound and feel not only current and relevant, but also necessary. The energy on this album is through the roof, and I believe it reflects the sentiment of a culture that is up in arms over the political climate, searching for an outlet just shy of rioting.


Notable Music Videos of 2016

DJ Shadow feat. Run The Jewels – Nobody Speak

Kemba – The New Black Theory

KOOL KEITH feat. MF DOOM – Super Hero


Notable Rap Battles of 2016

Danny Myers vs B Dot (LABG)

Iron Solomon vs Dizaster (KOTD)


The Latest Playlist 2016:

Kemba – The New Black Theory

Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – Smiling (Quirky Race Doc)

KA – Just

Homeboy Sandman – Eyes

Blu & Union Analogtronics – Sunny

Run The Jewels feat. BOOTS – 2100

Mickey Factz & Nottz – 414 Words

Mick Jenkins – Fall Through

Elzhi – Cloud

Danny Brown feat. Petite Noir – Rolling Stone


Have a great 2017!

2015 in Review

It’s been a minute since my last post but today is a big one. Below are some of my favorite highlights of 2015. Check the following Playlists, Albums, Music Videos, Cyphers and Rap Battles for my personal run-down of the year.


The Latest Playlist: 2015

*Track listing at bottom of post


Notable Albums of 2015

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

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Without question, the most important album of 2015 is To Pimp a Butterfly. It is as timely and uncompromisingly relevant as it is uniquely produced. The instrumentals are a well-choreographed mix of Funk, Jazz and R & B melodies that mimic and support the energy of a passionately expressive Kendrick Lamar.

As Kendrick navigates through emotional highs, lows, and moments of clarity, he gives listeners a poetically journalistic perspective of his experience being black in America. He continuously expresses his frustration throughout the album, often referencing slavery, politics, and police brutality. A few of the tracks veer off course and a few stand out as optimistic perspectives on his more painful songs, but his performance is exemplary and he didn’t hold back a thing in terms of his message. There are endless pages that could be and have been written breaking down To Pimp A Butterfly as a significant piece of art reflecting race in America.

BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul

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Now that I touched on the most praised album of the year, I want to focus on what I believe is the most slept-on album of 2015. Wu- Tang veteran Ghostface Killah teamed up with the Toronto-based music group BADBADNOTGOOD in February to create Sour Soul, which has become my personal favorite album of the year (or at least the one I listen to the most). Ghostface’s lyrical content on this project is far from enlightening as he confidently boasts of sex, money, and power while threatening violence and domination, but the outcome is highly entertaining nonetheless.

What makes this project such a great success is it’s cinematic quality. BADBADNOTGOOD uses jazz to create instrumentals that feel like movie scores in beat format. Much of the album is strictly instrumental, and Ghostface’s appearances are well placed. He uses this platform to act out his character as a gun-slinging mobster in full rapper machismo and he fits the part perfectly. The instrumental interludes seem like time passing between verses, which become like different movie scenes with each appearance made by Ghostface’s character. I recommend listening to this album from front to back. Over, and over, and over.

Henry Canyons – Canyonland  /  Milo – So the Flies Don’t Come

Two other notable albums that I would place in my top 5 for the year are Milo’s “So the Flies don’t come” and Henry Canyons “Canyonland”. I touched on these albums earlier this year and you can find those posts here:

https://themicisthemessage.com/2015/08/05/project-profile-canyonland/

https://themicisthemessage.com/2015/10/09/project-profile-so-the-flies-dont-come/

Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt

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One more album I wanted to draw attention to for 2015 is an instant introverts classic. I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt. To be honest I’ve never been a big Odd Future fan with the exception of a few tracks and one member. Earl Sweatshirt caught my ear with the track “EARL” back in 2010 (at which point he was 16). It was gritty, offensive, and reckless in typical Odd Future fashion, but Earl’s flow and wordplay was so uniquely dope that it didn’t matter. Now in 2015 Earl shows listeners a more mature and genuine picture of his life and struggles.

The entire project has a kind of mopey depressing energy supporting the album concept, and the beats are pretty minimal. The title of the album says it all. Earl proceeds to elaborate on why he doesn’t like people: men, women, rappers, industry executives, promoters, friends, enemies…the list goes on. Earl is at the top of his game in terms of flow and wordplay complexity and provides an impressively compelling case for why he doesn’t like people. It is exciting to hear Earl Sweatshirt’s music develop over the years as he is beginning to express more genuinely than his younger self.


Notable Videos of 2015

Below are some Music Videos, Rap Battles, and a Cyphers that were  notable highlights for 2015:

Music Videos

Action Bronson – Actin’ Crazy

Open Mike Eagle – Celebrity Reduction Prayer

Rap Battles

Iron Solomon vs Daylyt

Dumbfounded vs Conceited

Cyphers

Illmaculate on Team Backpack

Locksmith on Shade45


The Latest Playlist: 2015

Kendrick Lamar – King Kunta
Henry Canyons feat. Zoe Rose – Music Man
Joey Bada$$ – Christ Conscious
Murs – Skatin Through the City
Tre Capital feat. Hudson East – Bear the Burden
Mick Jenkins – Alchemy
Earl Sweatshirt – Grief
BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah feat. Elzhi – Gunshowers
A-Wax – Tried As an Adult
Open Mike Eagle – Dark Comedy Late Show
Lupe Fiasco feat. Crystal Torres – Adoration of the Magi
Apollo Brown feat. Your Old Droog – Not That Guy
L’Orange & Jeremiah Jae – Underworld
Milo – An Encyclopedia

And that is my wrap-up of 2015. Happy New Year.

Label Profile: Mello Music Group

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http://www.mellomusicgroup.com

https://mellomusicgroup.bandcamp.com

When people ask me who I’m paying attention to in underground hip-hop, my first answer is “anything from Mello Music Group”. The label was founded in 2007, and has been making a lot of moves particularly in the past 5 years. Literally every project that has released since I’ve been paying attention has been dope. The styles within the label vary, but a couple things that the artists have in common are high standards for lyrical and expressive content, polished vocal and instrumental production, and clear influences from classic forms of underground hip-hop reinterpreted through contemporary stylistic twists.

Below is a mix of some of my favorite MMG tracks for a sample. The track list is at the bottom of the post:


The Latest Playlist: Mello Music Group


The next major Mello Music Group release is a duo of 2 emcees I’ve been following for years now. Open Mike Eagle and Serengeti team up to make the group Cavanaugh. Their project “Time & Materials” will be released November 20th, 2015. Below is the video of their pre-released track “Screen Play”:

A few weeks ago I did a post titled Producer Profile: Apollo Brown. Apollo Brown is one of MMG’s heavy hitting producers, so refer to that post for a longer breakdown of his work. Another key MMG producer is L’Orange, whose speakeasy influenced style uses a wide variety of jazz and blues as well as movie and radio quotes and sound effects. He’s done full collaborative projects w/ Stik Figa, Jeremiah Jae and Kool Keith, several full solo albums, and has made beats for a plethora of emcees on individual tracks. Below is a video of the track “The End” produced by L’Orange featuring Billy Woods:

A classic group developed from 3 Detroit artists in MMG: “Ugly Heroes” consists of  Apollo Brown, Red Pill, and Verbal Kent. Their self-titled debut album dropped in 2013, and has been highly regarded by underground heads. Below is their track “Desperate”:

Another prolific emcee/producer on MMG is Oddisee. Below is a video of one of his hypnotic instrumentals, “After Thoughts”:

Some of the Mello Music Group emcees have a bit more progressive unconventional approach to their content and flow structure.  Artists like Open Mike Eagle, The Black Opera, Quelle Chris, and Castle are a few that come to mind when thinking about MMG emcees that take more alternative approaches in their work. Also see the post Project Profile: Canyonland for a look at Henry Canyons’ latest MMG release.

I didn’t get a chance to speak on everyone in Mello Music Group here, but I highly recommend exploring this label in depth.  Below is the mostly complete MMG roster. Check out https://mellomusicgroup.bandcamp.com for the full MMG Discography.

Oddisee | Apollo Brown | L’Orange | Gensu Dean | 14KT | Def Dee | Red Pill | Quelle Chris | Open Mike Eagle | Mr. Lif | Rapper Big Pooh | yU | Kenn Starr | 7evenThirty | Georgia Anne Muldrow | Verbal Kent | Dudley Perkins | Has-Lo | Jamall Bufford | Substantial | Boog Brown | Castle | Henry Canyons | Hus Kingpin | J Bizness | Uptown XO | Trek Life | Kool Keith | The Black Opera | Ugly Heroes | Diamond District | Cavanaugh | Semi Hendrix | 1978ers


The Latest Playlist: Mello Music Group

Mr. Lif, John Robinson & L’Orange – The Lost Nova | Oddisee – Self Sacrifice
Quelle Chris – Going Swell | 7evenThirty & Gensu Dean – Roach Spray
Quelle Chris – What Up | Trek Life – Street Casualty | Red Pill & Blockhead – Darlin’
L’Orange & Stik Figa feat. Open Mike Eagle – Decorated Silence
The Black Opera – Never Saw It Coming (prod. Arjun Singh & TBO)
OC & Apollo Brown – Angels Sing | L’Orange & Gift of Gab – Circles Around Circles
Def Dee feat. Uptown XO – Errybody Bent