Why There Was Nothing Dope About The Ghostface/Action Bronson Rant

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Let me preface this by saying I’m a huge fan of both artists involved (Action Bronson and Ghostface Killah) to the point that both are in my personal top five at present. I have dedicated playlists groomed specifically for each artist. I’ve witnessed firsthand the wild energy of an Action Bronson show. While I’ve never had the honor of seeing GFK perform live, I was one of few kids at my northern California high school rocking Clark’s Wallabees in the summertime like it was nothing. While Ghost is obviously the veteran artist with a ton of classic joints under his belt, Bronson has, in a short time, become a personal favorite long before he became the darling of hipsters and mainstream outlets. I write this out of love for both artists and for the culture, so don’t get this twisted as some sort of slight to Ghostface as opposed to an honest critique as a disappointed fan and music journalist.

If you’re not up on things, read the story and catch the video here.

In a nutshell, Ghost is too much of an OG to be taking potshots at other rappers via YouTube. It would be one thing to express distaste, but to issue threats? He’s old enough to know better. That was a move of a rapper born in 1992 or something. Everyone knows that the best way to ensure nothing ever happens is to issue the threat on a public forum, specifically on video. So I think we can establish that nothing serious will come of this…and that’s actually a good thing.

The people who seem to be hyping this up online seem to be mostly fans of Ghost who don’t know much about Bronson’s work. These are people who heard of Bronson on a “this guy sounds like Ghostface” note and went into it looking to find someone biting Ghost’s style, which he absolutely doesn’t do. Aside from a slightly nasal vocal similarity, there really isn’t that much the two have in common, as heard when the two collaborated on “Meteor Hammer”. Personally, I hear a lot more Queens/Kool G Rap or even Big Pun in Action Bronson’s rhymes. In terms of style, I can’t think of one song Bronson has put out that I could see Ghost doing the same way. Both MCs are highly adept at stream of consciousness raps and being obsessive about details when painting a picture for listeners, both seem to draw from different places entirely. Love it or hate it or know nothing about it, you can’t say Bronson isn’t operating as a completely unique artist on Mr. Wonderful or any of his prior projects, for that matter.

These are two unique MCs with a lot to offer to the game even currently. Bronson doesn’t need to pay homage to Ghost for sounding like him, though he has paid homage to Ghost’s influence and contributions to the culture many, many times. Unfortunately, Bronson responded to the comparison for the billionth time on SportsNation and got a little out of pocket saying Ghost “isn’t rapping like this no more”. This is false. Ghost has been putting out some very good material recently (even his contributions to the abysmal A Better Tomorrow were bright spots). Bronson’s comment just struck me as self-aggrandizing shit-talking, not as an actual scathing diss, as some have hyped it up to be. As we all know, the Wu tends to get a little touchy about other rappers questioning their abilities. That being said, when has rap not been about competition and bravado? Bravado is damn near the fifth element of the culture as a whole. Ghost feeling a need to elevate the situation to violence was trite and beneath his stature as a pillar within the culture. What would have been dope and will probably never happen now is Bronson and Ghost getting on a track or giving us an Action Vs. Ghost EP to kill all talk of similarities or swagger-jacking once and for all. Unfortunately, the present day rap game is so thirsty to have something matter in this dreadfully banal period in hip-hop history that they’ll hype this situation up into perpetuity and egg on a feud over artistic progress. And don’t think this is going to result in top shelf rap beef. Kids who weren’t around for Ice Cube vs. Common or even LL vs. Canibus would rather read tweets between moody rappers than hear classic diss records being dropped, so let’s just all cut our losses and act like this whole thing never happened. Cool? Cool.

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Return Of The Savage :: Ghostface Killah f. Raekwon & RZA

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This record comes from Ghostface and producer Adrian Younge’s upcoming sequel to last year’s collaborative Twelve Reasons To Die.  Matching my complaint about the first album, this track seems to be just as overly dramatic to the point of eye-rolling but it’s always good to hear Rae and Ghost on a record together.  As for RZA’s input (a monologue), I have to wonder who keeps thinking it’s a good idea to have him do the narration on anything ever.  Ah, well.  Enjoy.

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Front-Free’s 2014 Year In Music

Happy New Year to readers new and old.  This was a good year for music on the low.  For folks with taste, it looked horrible on the mainstream side of things, but if you’re to any degree proactive about finding good music on your own, you know some dope projects dropped this year that you won’t catch on the Grammy nominee list or on the radio.  Here’s to hoping you find something here you didn’t get a chance to check out and are able to hop on iTunes or Spotify and show some love.

This isn’t a list that appears in any particular order or that says what everyone should have been listening to.  It’s a list that describes, out of what I heard this year, what moved me specifically.

Lord Steppington :: Step Brothers

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I’m an Alchemist fan and will listen to almost any MC he sits down with.  However, with Step Brothers, Alc steps up as both a producer and an MC in his own right, matching wits with the very formidable likes of Evidence.  While Evidence clearly is the more seasoned of the two, Alc manages to not be completely eclipsed, injecting enough humor to make you forgive his stilted delivery.  The beats here are what boom-bap should sound like in 2014…true to the culture and original sound without coming off as dated.  Rare, obscure samples abound.  This is definitely a record that doesn’t sound like anything else that’s out.

Black Messiah :: D’Angelo & The Vanguard

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This is one album that made me glad I waited to put this very list out there.  I’m definitely not a person who thinks calling something classic on day one of its release is acceptable, but I’m also a person old enough to recall hearing classics for the first time and remembering how they made me feel.  Black Messiah is very much alive.  That’s major when you’re talking about current R&B, a genre that barely contains what D’Angelo has done here.  This album is organic and flies against the ultra-sleek, soulless alternative-R&B that’s been taking over the genre of late.  This is an album that reminds us of the standard we’re supposed to be expecting from soul music.  While it may not be accessible as his debut, or Voodoo for that matter, one must keep in mind that D’Angelo made those albums as a relatively new artist and wasn’t the elusive, near-mythical figure he is today in rhythm & blues.  Here, D’Angelo shows he has grown significantly since he was the guy who made “Sh★t, Damn, Motherf★cker” back in 1995 (which was a great song but obviously represents a much younger incarnation of the artist).  Messiah simply delivers.

Voices :: Phantogram

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Phantogram is the kind of act whose music could very well get lost in the sauce, considering the fact that their music is well-suited for climactic teen drama backdrops or copping over-priced coffee at your local indie cafe where almost everyone has earphones on listening to their own stuff anyway.  However, if you are fortunate enough to take a more dedicated listen, the duo known as Phantogram takes a painstaking approach to crafting what they call “street beat”, a decidedly edgy brand of atmospheric pop.  Don’t get too caught up in genre-labeling, though, as Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter come together to show that they’re a group who are students of music, with the sounds on Voices ranging from alternative to R&B but never being easy to pin down.  Songs are grandiose without feeling over-produced or cold.  Phantogram doesn’t come off as girly as, say, Haim, because the production has more of a backbone to it, which is Carter’s influence on the sound refusing to be drowned out by Barthel’s commanding vocals.

36 Seasons :: Ghostface Killah

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This album was the only thing that could have made up for the disappointment of the latest Wu-Tang Clan album.  The tracklist alone made any rap fan old enough to have facial hair damn near blow up, with guest features from the likes of Kool G Rap and AZ.  There’s something to be said about a major veteran MC deciding to reach out to fellow vets to get on tracks as opposed to getting a bunch of flash-in-the-pan upstarts who might get more attention for the project.  Invest in this.

Your Old Droog :: Your Old Droog

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It’s safe to say that Coney Island’s Your Old Droog shocked the hip-hop world this year when he revealed himself to be a young Ukrainian-American MC and not Nas, as some believed him to be.  The Nas comparisons were lost on me, however, as Nas’ music hasn’t excited me the way that Droog’s EP and subsequent full-length did in many, many years.  I also didn’t hear anything but a vague similarity between Droog’s voice and Nas’s.  The unique thing about Droog is that he seems to revel in the strange, as evidenced by his odd moniker (“Droog” being a Russian term for friend) and creative references.

Hood Billionaire :: Rick Ross

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A lot of people are probably surprised that this album made my list, but I’ve been a fan of Ross’ music since his first album…he just stopped moving me some time ago.  With Hood Billionaire, although there are some fumbles (all of them collaborations: Snoop Dogg, R. Kelly and K. Michelle, respectively), Ross manages to sell the caricature he’s made himself into with pure zeal and gusto.  Rick Ross thrives in the box he’s supposed to fit in, which is deliciously irresponsible declarations that grate on the nerves when you want something deeper, but are just right when you just want to wild out for the night.  Ross’ music makes you feel ten feet tall and, when we’re looking at appreciation of music, isn’t making you feel something what we should be looking for?

Barrel Brothers :: Skyzoo & Torae

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This is by far one of my favorite projects that dropped this year.  You can read my full review on Kevin Nottingham, but in a nutshell, this was a top shelf offering and shame on you for sleeping on this if you did.

Clear Lake Forest :: The Black Angels

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The Black Angels make the kind of music you expect to hear during a 1970’s period drama during a drug-use montage.  The drowsy vocals and plodding percussion on many of the songs seem to come from another time…in a good way.  This EP is nowhere near as good as their debut album, Directions To See A Ghost, but such is the case I find for rock bands that I enjoy.

Dominican Diner :: Timeless Truth

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It doesn’t take long listening to Timeless Truth for any fan of Queens rap to recognize the influences these two Corona/Flushing MCs take from The Beatnuts.  As a Beatnuts fan, I appreciate the fresh energy brought to the sound by two newer MCs, joining the likes of Meyhem Lauren and Action Bronson in ushering in a new era of Queens boom-bap.  Buy it here.

NehruvianDOOM :: MF Doom & Bishop Nehru

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DOOM doesn’t fail at what he does.  As king of his own novelty sub-genre, it seems like an unlikely pairing for him to reach out to a teenage wunderkind like Bishop Nehru for an entire project.  However, the youngster shines on his own, managing to impress without coming off as an over-reaching amateur over DOOM’s lavish productions.  While it’s clear that Nehru’s wet behind the ears, his fresh voice juxtaposed with DOOM’s at times weary, grizzled-vet delivery makes for some seamless chemistry.


Tough Love :: Jessie Ware

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From the moment I saw the video for “Running”, I was transfixed on Jessie Ware as an artist.   It seemed like I was getting a concoction of Lisa Stansfield, Annie Lennox, and Sade all wrapped up within the potential of one artist.  Once I heard her use a particularly menacing Big Pun vocal looped on the song “100%” (“..carving my initials on your forehead”), I was an instant fan.  Following behind the acclaimed debut Devotion, Ware shows the same top shelf musicality on this sophomore effort.  Ware reminds us that it’s okay to expect more out of pop music, adding a level of sophistication that’s mature without aging the sound.  This album feels…expensive.

Silk Pyramids :: Meyhem Lauren & Buckwild

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Artists like Meyhem Lauren are the punch in the face that rap needs in the era of hip-hop-themed reality dramas and Twitter beefs.  While his flow doesn’t reinvent the wheel, Lauren flourishes when it comes to being outlandish when it comes to describing his lifestyle or inserting gruff ad-libs here and there.

Furtive Movements :: Armand Hammer

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While it’s very dense, I’m the kind of person who enjoys that every now and then from a rap album.  Every rap song doesn’t need to be fully understandable from listen one.  Adding some complexity over some solid production is, to me, guaranteed replay value.

If There’s A Hell Below :: Black Milk

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I have to admit I’m almost ashamed I didn’t really check for Black Milk before this year.  I’m a stickler for names and his seemed to put a bad taste in my mouth, literally.  Quirks aside, I forced myself to check out some of his features and ultimately stumbled upon his latest album, If There’s A Hell Below.

The Living Daylights :: Willie The Kid & Bronze Nazareth

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Last but definitely not least, Willie The Kid’s project with producer Bronze Nazareth was a work of art, similar to last year’s Aquamarine.  This was slept on for no good reason.

The Sweet Spot Vol. 3: Higher :: Maiya Norton

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While it isn’t a mixtape, album, or EP, the third installment to DJ and music aficionado (and also fellow Howard Bison) Maiya Norton’s mix series deserves some recognition as one of the most moving projects I heard this year.  A self-described “old soul”, Maiya presents an amalgamation of 1970s funk, soul, and psychedelic jams that together create a soothing landscape that a person could get lost in.

Honorable Mentions

The following are albums I appreciated, but not as much as the ones above, for a number of reasons.  Nevertheless, they’re worth checking out and they all contributed something authentic to the year in music, hip-hop and otherwise.

Pinata :: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib

Cilvia Demo :: Isaiah Rashad

Pre Magnum Opus :: Tragedy Khadafi

Is This Art? :: Michael Christmas

RAP :: SHIRT

Mega Philosophy :: Cormega

Cadillactica :: Big K.R.I.T.

Directors Of Photography :: Dilated Peoples

Run The Jewels 2 :: Run The Jewels

As usual, many thanks to the readers who keep supporting the site, to everyone who bought merchandise and repped Front-Free in public, and to my friends and family.  Shout out to Ebony.com and Kevin Nottingham for published pieces I wrote this year outside of Front-Free and a special shout to UCLA’s Hip-Hop Congress for allowing me to sit on a panel based on one of those articles, discussing the effects of drugs on hip-hop culture with UCLA’s best and brightest.  It’s been a dope year for me personally and I have nothing but great expectations for 2015.  Let’s get it.

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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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Iyanla: Fix My Wu-Tang

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So I recently purchased a Wu-Tang hoodie online and I regret to say that I had to just sit it down in a corner and just kind of glare at it for about a week before finally putting it on today.  Had to put the Wu-Tang hoodie on punishment.  This was brought about by Ghostface Killah’s recent appearance on VH1’s Couples Therapy.  Now you’ve heard me discuss before how I feel about rappers on reality shows, but there’s a big difference between watching Consequence fall victim to the trappings of reality TV “stardom” and watching the special place that the Wu holds in my heart be diminished by having to watch key members acting a donkey on reality television.  This, mind you, is after a string of disappointments…moments I felt were obvious reaches for mainstream (read: the yute’dem) relevance years after the classic Wu-Tang Forever was released.

If you’re a regular reader of Front-Free, you don’t even have to ask me how I felt about Drake’s so-called ode to the Wu-Tang Clan, which to me seemed like a ploy to attract the ire of fans of the Wu who would naturally be averse to Aubrey’s style of rap-singering.  What was worse than that was the Wu’s support of the song, an obvious attempt to remain relevant and diplomatic within the current rap game, where most fans are too young to remember the significance of the classic purple tape, let alone “Protect Ya Neck”.  Nobody wants to be that old rapper who seems unreceptive to the new crop of rappers, but it’s admirable when you feel the authenticity in it, as opposed to Raekwon acting as if he plays Justin Beiber music in the whip when asked about his working with the pop star.  There aren’t enough woo blunts in the world to make me believe that was genuine props and not Rae trying to avoid burning any potentially lucrative bridges.

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It’s a common misconception that one cannot or should not knock the hustle.  I think it’s very important to knock the hustle when it conflicts with who a person or entity represents.  Keeps things honest.  Naturally, Wu-Tang’s first LP was a long, long time ago in hip-hop years and a group that large is certain to grow apart and begin to have their own individual goals and ways of thinking after years and years of success and experience.  Method Man, for example, has been his own separate brand apart from the Wu for years, to the point his caricature-of-himself persona exists almost completely independent of his contributions to the whole.  But Ghostface joining the ranks of Joe Budden, Consequence, Li’l Scrappy and Benzino on the washed-up-rapper cavalcade that is currently VH1’s prime-time programming is just the last straw…and a wake-up call to fans that the Wu will never be the same…and not in the “oh they’re evolving” sense.  It could have all been so simple: build an amazing brand in hip-hop (check).  Release classic group albums that are true to said brand (check).  Release classic solo efforts that are also true to said brand (check).  Continue on in your careers remaining true to the brand and staying true to the core fans who got you this far and other fans will come (now this is where it gets iffy).

In closing, the Wu-Tang Clan have a catalog so impressive collectively that I could never totally give up my Wu-fan roots.  Raekwon and Ghostface are still both in my top five MCs list, even if one is going the VH1 route and the other may do some questionable features here and there.  At the end of the day, though, a true fan doesn’t just eat up anything an artists serves them with a smile on their face.  As with hip-hop itself, you’ve got to be in love with the art-form/culture enough to want better for it.  I just want better for the Wu.

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Don’t Do It, Ghostface!

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Apparently, Ghostface Killah is set to appear on an upcoming season of VH1’s Couples Therapy.  In a preview, he is shown getting a drink thrown on him by a young lady resembling an off-duty Thundercat.  I couldn’t be more disappointed.  First, Raekwon gets on a track with Justin Beiber and now this.  There’s truly nothing to believe in anymore.  I didn’t sign on to enter the 36 Chambers just to put up with this shit.

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