Uncut Raw :: Evie Blanco f. Mobb Deep

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Queens native Evie Blanco keeps it extra raw on “Uncut Raw”, where she hijacks a record from Havoc’s 2013 solo LP and goes in, which ended up getting the approval of Havoc himself. Evie had a tumultuous previous stint in rap, but is back at it. Regarding life on the come-up after a messed-up deal:

I signed an indie deal in like 2009 and it was complete bullshit.  I was young and didn’t have guidance so I encountered a lot. [After that,] I did everything from mixtape distribution to graphics to fashion show coordinating, but still went into the studio periodically.  My desire to chase a career as a rapper kinda died but my love for creating ill music didn’t.  Having dope friends and family actively in the industry has always inspired me to push forward, which is why one way or another, I made a career out of hip-hop.   You’ll hear my lil voice here and there though.  Now that I have control and flexibility, I have an idea of what I’m looking to do next.  

Evie Blanco plans to drop her solo LP this coming fall.

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What You Came For :: Jean Grae

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In conjunction with Marvel, Jean Grae has blessed us with the new track “What You Came For” to accompany Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther series. As the father of a 5-year-old, I’m excited to see the Panther getting so much burn recently and can’t wait to see him incorporated into all the animated shows Marvel has out right now (which are really good, by the way – both the Avengers and Spider-Man have had a long line of animated stinkers, so the current fare is a huge improvement). But back to the content at hand – Jean Grae is one of my favorite MCs and delivers on this joint. Buy it exclusively at Bandcamp.

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Welcome To BosAngeles :: Nat Anglin

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Boston’s own Nat Anglin, formerly known as Natural, drops the long-awaited Welcome To BosAngeles, an album that deftly shifts gears between straight rap and introspective flows, establishing who the artist is in a climate where mainstream rappers are more focused on every track being a club jam. Nat’s a stand-up guy and true student of the craft, so check out the album and cop that on iTunes.

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Summer Not Coming :: SHIRT

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The elusive but clever New York MC by the impossible-to-Google name of SHIRT drops a random loosey. Given that it’s really been kind of a terrible summer to be woke thus far, I can feel the sentiment of the title.

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[Album Review] Views :: Drake

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Drake Stans spent the better part of last year trying to convince the hip hop community that writing one’s own rhymes is unimportant in the wake of their mans’ beef with Meek Mill. In my opinion, Meek played himself by thinking that people who are fans of Drake’s would care about writing rhymes – not to mention the fact that Drake was no wizard in terms of penning rewindable bars in the first place, ghostwriter or not. This is the guy who makes music for guys who go through their girlfriends’ phones when they’re not looking and girls whose rap knowledge doesn’t go any farther back than 2010 or so. To be clear – rhymes matter, as does writing them, and Drake’s latest album is a perfect example of why.

I have a lot of fun cracking wise about Drake and his fans, but the truth is I’m always listening for a rapper to surprise me. Unfortunately, there aren’t many surprises on Drake’s latest LP, even for people who were looking forward to this thing with bated breath. Views dropped on the heels of me first hearing “Summer Sixteen” not long ago, a record I was surprised to find that I actually liked…probably due to the rapping being at the forefront. Unfortunately, this song doesn’t appear on the album.

“Hotline Bling” is an undeniable jam. It’s textbook in-my-feels Drake, but it isn’t directly derivative of anything else, which is refreshing for a Drake record. Plus, he isn’t really trying to sing on it, just rapping kind of melodically. I think it’s fortunate for Drake that his “era” is one known as the a la carte era of music consumption, where most music fans don’t even remember a time when they had to sit down and listen to most albums front to back and really spend time with them vs. putting their favorite jams on shuffle or just playing only what you want to hear at a given moment. Drake’s nasally, studio-doctored vocals on every single track can be insufferable at times, but I don’t think that’s as much of an issue now as it would have been at a time when really sitting with an album was the norm.

I particularly enjoyed the song “Grammys”, though for reasons that have nothing to do with Drake himself. I find it hilarious that guest Future manages to completely wash Drake on a song where your mans boldly declares “top five, no debating” followed by “topfivetopfivetopfive“, as if he’s trying to hypnotize the listener into agreeing with that ludicrous statement (top five Canadian rappers, I’ll give you…partially because I can’t think of five at the moment). Not even close, homeboy. But this is one record I can definitely see not tomahawk dunking into the recycle bin as soon as I’m done with this review. Infinite soul daps to whoever manages to chef me up a Future-only version (funny thing about this entire paragraph is that I’m not even a Future fan).

“U With Me?” jacks DMX’s “How’s It Goin’ Down” word for word in parts, which I’m not mad at. Tributes can work. What’s weird is when I consider that the majority of Drake’s fans would probably be traumatized for weeks if they actually listened to It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot, the album the original record was on. We don’t even need to mention the fact that last I checked, Dark Man X isn’t particularly fond of Drake. I bet he’s gonna spend whatever check he’s owed for the sample with a smile on his face, though. Hopefully he didn’t try to do DMX like he did Rappin’ 4Tay a while back.

I really wish people would stop trying to force posthumous Pimp C verses onto Drake records. Even though Bun B’s given Drake a permanent pass, those in the know also recall that it was Bun B who approved the UGK feature on Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin'”, while Pimp C dragged his feet purposely and finally ended up doing it, but only at Bun’s behest. If C thought “Big Pimpin'” was too pop-sounding, I can only imagine what he would have had to say about appearing anywhere on this album, let alone what he would have to say about Drake himself. This collaboration seems (and literally was) forced. This brings us to the patois-tinged “Controlla” where, for the umpteenth time, Drake adopts another region’s sound in an attempt to be all things to all people without ever giving us a feel for “the 6” as a foundation for his experimentation. As you may know, Views was originally titled Views From The 6, which is a reference to his hometown, Toronto. As Canada’s golden child, one might think Drake would take the chance at establishing a signature sound for his part of the world aside from the mopey robot sound adopted by cronies like The Weeknd and Partynextdoor. None of this homogeneous material gives me any feel whatsoever for the energy of the region, unless everyone up there sounds like drowning robots with hella personal issues to tell you about. No shots.

“Child’s Play” is easily the most childish record rap has heard since Smedium Sean’s “IDFWU”. Played-out, ignorant references to “actin’ lightskin” and trite Love & Hip-Hop fare really set the bar pretty low here. Due to the apropos title of the song, one can only hope Drake’s being tongue-in-cheek, but even in that case, the record could have remained on the cutting room floor. “Too Good” finds Drake alongside Rihanna, where even her bleating manages to outshine his tired vocals. The biggest flaw in Drake’s repertoire throughout the course of his career aside from absolutely vapid content is his insistence on singing. Call me crazy, but when I want singing, I listen to people who actually can, not rappers who play at it.

Ultimately, this is an okay album on the surface, but once you get to the lyrics, you’re bound to be disappointed…that’s if you’re an oddball like me and expect rappers to actually be good at rapping and even singers to be good at singing (imagine that). This is where the more irrational Drake fans must stand apart from fans of the craft itself. Views would be an amazing instrumental album, but the vocals and raps tend to drag it all down, like pearls before swine. Drake consistently manages to slap together some absolutely abysmal Carter 4-level metaphors and punchlines (“toying with it like Happy Meal” or the infamous “Chain-ing Tatum” line) throughout the album, giving credence to the idea that fans need to stop trying to shoehorn the rapper into discussions about top-tier MCs. He simply isn’t one. Hitmaker? Sure, but that’s a separate conversation and depends solely on what you think that title is worth in the long run, especially in a time where the lowest common denominator rap records tend to reign supreme. I see Drake as an entertainer – not a particularly compelling one, to me – but a successful one, nonetheless, for what that’s worth. People are entertained for the moment and I guess that’s what’s important in music for the time being, but I doubt if anyone will still be discussing this record next year or in the years to come. Either way, Views will bang throughout the summer or at least half of it for party-goers and anyone with a sound system to show off. At the end of the day, though, who knows? Maybe fans will start to reconsider their belief that rhymes don’t matter anymore and start demanding better quality from their idols. A critic can dream.

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Why Streaming Exclusivity Doesn’t Quite Make Sense To Me

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I haven’t been interested in new Drake material since 2009’s So Far Gone. For those that know my writing, it’s no surprise that I’m still not interested, but I don’t think I’ve ever shared that I once was. My little sister actually put me on to Drake’s Comeback Season mixtape back in ’07 and I liked it so much I told everyone I knew about it. This was back when he was making records with the likes of Dwele and Little Brother and not jacking the style of an entire region every other song. Nevertheless, I’m still a rap critic of sorts, so I find it necessary to listen to everything I can, especially since Drake is one of the most (I hate that I’m saying it and you’re gonna hate that I’m using the word) important rap artists of the decade. Granted, that isn’t saying much for rap’s current crop of fans, but I digress. Drake’s Views album dropped today, but is available exclusively on Apple Music and iTunes. While it’s unclear whether the album will remain restricted to just Apple availability, it’s difficult to understand from an artist’s standpoint why this new tactic makes any sense other than to appease the powers that be (Apple, Tidal).

I canceled Apple Music about a week ago. I had meant to do it months before, but just got around to it recently. The same thing happened with Google Music, though as an Android loyalist, I still buy music I can’t find on Spotify from the Play store as opposed to iTunes for convenience’s sake. I gave up on Apple Music due to the inability to embed playlists onto my blog, which was a deal-breaker for me. I was an early adopter of Spotify and have been using it to embed playlists and the occasional single song onto my blog for some time now. Other than that glaring omission and the lack of any real social aspect (because who doesn’t like to silently judge their friends for listening to Nickelback or the likes of Rae Sremmurd on Spotify), Apple Music was a beautiful service. I also tried Tidal during its debut month, but canceled within a week, quickly identifying it as utter rubbish in a shiny wrapper – I once wrote that it was the Emperor’s New Clothes of streaming services, a vanity project that only served to show how out of touch Jay-Z and friends truly are with the average music fan. It was clear very quickly, I’m sure, to the numbers folks at Tidal that:

  1. Nobody gave a fuck about what artists make per stream, and
  2. Nobody gave a fuck about the edge in sound quality Tidal was claiming to offer.

Third – the app is trash, fam. You’re charging people more than Spotify or Apple, yet lack a desktop client, the ability to upload your own music to listen to via the app, any social aspect, or really anything the other services don’t offer, aside from “exclusive concerts”, which I’m also sure nobody gave a flying fig about. So instead of heading back to the lab to come up with a better product, the bunglers at Tidal decide “hey, we’ll just hold some popular musicians’ music hostage and they’ll have no choice but to subscribe” (Tidal also offers no “free” tier of membership). This seemed to work at first when Kanye decided to drop The Life Of Pablo this year and Tidal was happy to report the number of people who had subscribed that week, but they conveniently failed to report the number who had unsubscribed once the free trial had ended or at the end of one or even two payment cycles. What was absolutely rich though was the staggering number of people who took to the torrents to download the album illegally. A mere two days after release, Torrent Freak reported a whopping 500,000 downloads from BitTorrent and was the most popular download on Pirate Bay.

All of you may not remember the struggle of pirating music from Napster, Kazaa, Limewire, or Frostwire, but we old-timers (allegedly) used to go through hell trying to get albums free and sometimes early and none of it was very convenient (though at the time, it was the best thing in the world for people who would have otherwise got stoned, went down music’s memory lane and woke up to a $60 iTunes receipt for purchasing random Stevie B or Blue Oyster Cult records). It was the Internets equivalent to walking five miles in the snow to get to the soda fountain or whatever the fuck your Paw Paw used to talk about. When streaming came about, ex-Limewire experts who had graduated to torrenting elsewhere were able to give out a collective sigh of relief because for a lousy ten bucks a month, one could have convenient access to damn near everything they wanted to hear – ever. No more having to unzip folders, check if they were legit, transfer to iTunes, then go through the epic hell of having to rename all of the songs therein to fit within your iTunes library or wherever you store your tunes. You’ll feel me if, like me, you feel like a clean music library is neck and neck with godliness.

For many of those same people to return to torrenting to get ahold of the Kanye album should show just how unappealing Tidal is to anyone with any modicum of savvy. Sure, you might snag subscriptions from the relentless Stans and/or people not particular about their music apps, but you’re missing out on an unidentifiable mass of casual fans and people who just want to use whatever app they’re most comfortable with to play music. And the thing is – they’re going to find a way to get your album in some fashion and you won’t even get the credit for the stream. Why? – because you wanted “control”.

When the awful news broke that Prince had died, fans like myself were stuck at work without access to their favorite Prince videos or songs to binge-enjoy. Within a few hours, though, the Internets were silently buzzing with Dropbox folders a-flying. With semi-obvious names like “Purple Doves”, people who weren’t willing to subscribe to Tidal were sharing music the old way, albeit the illegal one, like it or not. While I understand that people want to respect Prince’s wishes about access to his music, Prince was also notoriously Internet-shy and I doubt he had a real grasp on how the average web-savvy music head operates or how the plugged-in youth consume music. Despite their infinite access to almost everything in music history, many just don’t care about anything that’s older than five years and if they do, they’re not bending over backwards (clicking a YouTube link) to go find out about it. The sad thing about the latter group of music fans is that making music inaccessible to them will only ensure that that music dies along with the older generations that popularized it and who remember it fondly. It’s a shame in Prince’s case, considering how well Purple Rain stands to this day as a perfect album, one that could come out today and still be called a flawless record, even by smart music fans who weren’t born until over a decade after its release.

The competition between streaming services shouldn’t be about who can get what artist. The competition needs to be who can build the better, more intuitive apps. The way things are set up currently, the end user loses. The slow-witted uber-dedicated will pay for more than one app just to have access to one or two artists, some will find ways to access the music they want and get it on the app they like, and others will just ignore albums they don’t have access to altogether (this is what I did with the most recent Adele album, since “Hello” was available on Spotify – I’ll just assume there’s nothing good on the album because I refuse to seek it out to transfer to Spotify). People listen to music in different ways. As a music writer, I want to be able to both hear music without having to pay for every single record and also share it with my network and readers conveniently. Some people just want to stream whatever an app is willing to spoon-feed them. The streaming services should be building out their services to fit the most needs possible instead of trying to hold their artists’ releases hostage.

 

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The Prelude :: Benjamin Starr

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Every now and then, you hear a free album or mixtape that makes you actually want to pay the artist for the content. “The Prelude” lets you know off top you’re about to hear some music with nutritional value to it, while the production takes you to a whole other place. Nothing but style, substance and craftsmanship.

Check out the whole album for free below and show this man some support, Internets.

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