Ming Moon :: Courteous L

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New music from one of the hardest-working young brothers trying to get on in this rap game that I’ve been showing support to for years now.  It’s one thing to keep releasing music for the purpose of staying in the public eye, but another thing to put time into your craft and release your work when it’s ready to be received.

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The Obviously Superior Intelligence Of The J. Cole Fanbase: A Strange Case Of Stanning

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The recent release of J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive seems to have kicked up a conflict that seems to have less to do with the music itself than it does hip-hop fans themselves, pitting dedicated fans vs. apathetic (but vocal) non-fans.  Critics of Cole’s have either maligned the album itself or dismissed it altogether based on the opinion that J. Cole’s music is, to put it plainly, boring.  While I have yet to hear anyone say he isn’t talented at the actual science of rapping, any student of hip-hop music can tell you that rapping your ass off doesn’t automatically making compelling music.  In what almost seem like a snub to this critical line of thinking, Cole went from the last album, Born Sinner, into this one not only producing the majority of the album himself, but welcoming zero guest features.  While Cole’s formula is obviously successful (more on what that has to do with anything later), critics, based on their own listening experiences, have a field day referring to his music as “audio Ambien” or “lyrical Lunesta” or dubbing him “Young Eeyore”.  But making fun of rappers is always fun until the stans get involved.

It would be highly inaccurate to call everyone who enjoyed 2014 Forest Hills Drive a stan.  Many people who weren’t even fans of Cole at all before now seem to enjoy it.  However, it’s the apathy toward his music that seems to spark the interest of J. Cole stans, who have come up with the most curious of arguments in response to people who don’t care for and/or about his music:

The idea that you may not be smart enough to understand the lyrics of one Jermaine Lamarr Cole.

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Now, we’ve seen this odd behavior before in standom, most notably from the stans of Lupe Fiasco, who assumed that anyone who didn’t care for “Kick, Push” just thought the song was about skateboarding and was unable to comprehend the deep, philosophical meaning behind it.  A major part of the stan agenda is finding a way to make anyone who doesn’t like what they stan for look like some kind of bumbling idiot, or worse, a hater.  With Cole, there’s an assumption that the St. John’s graduate is kicking rhymes so cerebral, you have to be on a higher plane of understanding to appreciate them.  This is used to combat the idea that Cole’s music is boring and/or that he himself is simply not that interesting a persona to draw the listener in.  I’m a person who seeks out hip-hop, new and old, on a daily basis and I am here to tell you that nothing Cole is talking about even comes close to being too deep for comprehension by your average Joe on the scale of conscious rap music (a category I wouldn’t even place Cole into).  Not to say that the music is of a lesser value, but it’s not what stans make it out to be.

I myself, in case you haven’t gathered at this point, am not a Cole fan, but “fan” to me is a strong word.  As a self-styled critic, I try not to be blinded by adoration for artists whose work I like so that I can expect the most out of them each time around and so that my opinion can be trusted.  So I would say that I’m a “fan” of very few artists.  J. Cole doesn’t bother me, but he also doesn’t interest me as an MC.  Skills aside, his story doesn’t draw me in and his execution isn’t something I’m interested in hearing for more than a feature or single.  That’s a personal taste thing, I know.  I don’t think he’s a bad rapper or (and this is most important to me) that he’s bad for the culture.  He’s actually very good for hip-hop…stanning isn’t.

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[Review] A Better Tomorrow :: Wu-Tang Clan

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I wanted to like this album.  I wanted to love this album.  I wanted it to be the most important record of 2014.  Needless to say, judging by the intro to this review you just read, none of these things happened.  It was clear from the early turmoil that fans were made aware of, with Raekwon and RZA sparring in the press about creative differences.  Even judging from the singles that have dropped, it’s clear that RZA is more interested in giving Wu-Tang fans what he thinks they want as opposed to what we need, which is vintage Wu.  We live in a time where the rap game is positioned squarely in the lobby of a W hotel and what we need to see again is rap living in the pissy stairwell depicted in ODB’s “Brooklyn Zoo” visual.  That darkness and edge is missing for most of A Better Tomorrow, with zen master RZA presiding over the boards.

Surprisingly, it’s Cappadonna who, to me, comes with some of the most consistent verses, displaying the same kind of energy he did on his first few appearances with the Clan.  Similarly, Method Man, GFK and a noticeably absent Raekwon put in decent work. Even U-God holds his own alongside Deck and GZA, but it isn’t the rhymes that are a problem here, aside from having to endure hearing Method Man mention being “turnt up“, which made me nauseous.  The problem is the realization that RZA’s vision for the album got in the way of what could have been a solid album.  What Raekwon described as RZA wanting to do “a more humble album” led to Tomorrow being an album where tastemakers concede to trends set by upstarts, following a pattern designed to attract the young whippersnappers instead of making some authentic hip-hop and letting it feed whoever was willing to partake.

Unfortunately, more than half of the album has little to no replay value, even as a Wu fan.  The better portion of the album are mostly tracks that aren’t even produced by RZA (Adrian Younge’s “Crushed Egos” and 4th Disciple’s “Necklace”).  Other tracks are plagued with failed attempts at nuance.  While awkwardly sung vocals are a Wu staple, the choruses they tried to shoehorn onto Tomorrow are amazingly bad, making me wonder where the hell Tekitha, Blue Raspberry or even Popa Wu were for the recording of this album. For example, the vocals on “Miracle” seem like a joke.  It’s even worse on “Ron O’Neal”: “No matter what the weather, we be gettin’ that cheddar, so…”  SERIOUSLY?!?!  These rap vets really just gave us a hook rhyming weather and cheddar?!?  I don’t know if I can also explain how awful the singer is in words, so I’ll just say that if it was a smell, it would closely mimic that of used earring backs.

It’s hard to admit that we may not ever see another Wu-Tang Forever, but it’s true; at this point, there’s just too much of a disconnect between the artists involved to expect a beneficial chemistry to occur.  Despite the pre-release marketing ploys and the big talk, A Better Tomorrow is a forgettable album. Unfortunately, Wu-Tang may not be forever (but judging by 36 Seasons, Ghostface Killah is).

Album Reaction:

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Memorabilia [Video] :: Skyzoo & Torae

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Skyzoo and Torae drop the visual for “Memorabilia” from their collaborative project titled Barrel Brothers, which is hands-down one of Front-Free’s top five albums of 2014 thus far.  I gotta get my hands on that Marlo Stanfield West Baltimore jersey that ‘Zoo is rockin’ here.  Help a blogger out.

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