Sunday, February 17, 2008

Buck 65 - Situation
Location: Canada

The latest release from the legendary Buck 65 sees him reunite with his originating hip-hop roots. On 'Situation', he calls on upcoming producer, Skratch Bastid, a 2-time Scribble Jam Champ, for beats. The result has landed Bastid nominated alongside legendary Metallica producer, Bob Rock, for a Juno award for Producer of the Year.

'Situation' centers on a 1957 theme, and immediately delivers strong with the first five tracks. "Dang" is a hip-hop meets house meets jive theme for all those b-boys now taking swing dance classes (and I know you're out there). "Shutter Buggin" is another favourite playing on the sexual strife that was emerging in the late 50s.

Unfortunately the tracks following the first five don't deliver as strong a punch. Nonetheless, Buck's strong lyricism and Bastid's keen musical ear still deliver refined songs. "Cop Shades" is a favourite, which could double as the tv theme for any Miami Vice wannabe show. "Benz" is aptly titled for its high-speed energy and catchy "goin down" chorus.

'Situation' is another solid release from Buck 65, building on his youthful years as a rapper. And it's nice to see Buck reuniting with the person who took over his infamous hip-hop radio show at CKCU after his departure, that person would be Skratch Bastid.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Loc Dog presents Don't Be a Menace Compilation
Location: New Brunswick

During his 5 year tenure at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Loc Dog has established himself as the centerpiece of a vibrant rap scene. His latest compilation "Don't be a Menace" features the usual rap suspects from Fredericton, Digby and Saint John.

One of Fredericton's finest young veteran emcees, Monark, opens the compilation with his usual articulate flow over an energized horn-laced beat. Soon enough, "Nuff Said" displays the nicest beat on the album, while Digby's Miracle complements it with his usual fierce punch. "You'll See" is the gem, while a synth-driven beat is backed by Knowledge's R&B chorus and strong verses from Al Boogie & Mick D. Other standouts from this 26 track compilation include DNA's classic "North Side" and "Light a Dutch (remix)" by Napz Meka and Nostic.

Having started out in Fredericton beside many of these emcees, I can't help but be biased. For those outside of the scene, this compilation is yet another eye opener provided by Loc Dog.
PS. Peep Loc Dog & Mick D on CHSR 97.9 FM every Wednesday from 9:30 - 11 pm

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Various Artists - Can Con Compilation

Location: Canada

Many years ago, a show called 'Maple Mothership' surfaced on CKDU in Halifax. Their aim was to spread Canadian hip-hop goodness to the masses. Eventually host Ewan Mill moved to Calgary where he now runs the infamous Ghetto Blaster hip-hop spot. Then longtime host, Parker Lewis, made the mode to Vancouver, leaving DJ Beef to run the Saturday radio show.

Parker Lewis keeps true to the heart of the Maple Mothership by compiling the 18 track 'Can Con' compilation. Mood Ruff uplifs with the feel good "Rocketship." Thesis Sahib brings a nice chorus over the heavy bass retro feel of "Same ol Thesis Sahib." I've been on an instrumental kick of late (Beastie Boys, The Flaps), so the contribution of Uncle Fester & Dexter Doolittle on "Insert Raps Here" pleases. The beat on John Smith & Parker Lewis' "Leaving a Mark" left a taste of Biggie's "Hypnotize". The compilation even branches out to the upbeat funk jam sound fusion of Presswon's "Funk Express."

The songs are safe selections and all play nice, but none really jump out and grab me, which makes for a smooth listen but somewhat lacking in long term appeal. That being said, the compilation is an impressive snapshot of heavyweights from the underground Canadian hip-hop scene. It's great to see folks still giving back to community!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Atherton & Sire - A Different Way of Doing the Same Old Thing
Location: Ottawa, ON / Toronto, ON

The sonic landscapes painted by Atherton & Sire's debut album exceed those of even some seasoned beatmakers drawing on diverse percussion and well-placed samples. Atherton brings a nice energy to his lyrics, with sing-songy choruses. Most refreshing is how he represents the true underground Ottawa scene by featuring verses from Ottawa heavyweights the likes of Addaboe, Flip Kuma, Bender and Patience.

Standouts include the horn laced 'Fans & Friends,' 'Mean Miss Treater' is a soulful melancholy flash back to the blues days of the past. 'Hall Pass Policy' is a rapid-fire ode to paying your dues in the scene.

Overall, the beats provide a solid underground sound, while Atherton brings an thoughtful artsy side to his lyricism. All the while guest verses prove he's in touch with the scene giving the album an authentic feel often lacking in hip-hop today.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Various Artists - Heads Connect Vol. 1
Location: Toronto, ON

An interviewer recently asked me, "do you think rap is killing hip-hop?". This caught me off guard, and then I thought of projects like Heads Connect that are spreading from its Toronto roots to cities like Ottawa & Montreal. This monthly event is a grassroots hip-hop show that brings together underground hip-hop heads from all over. Clearly my answer was 'no.'

Heads Connect vol. 1 brings niceness from many indie like-minded emcees. It provides a mix of new tracks and previously released albums tracks. In some cases, the re-issue of older tracks seemingly breathes new life into them like Wordburglar's "Cream of Wheat," but not so much in cases like Shad K's "I Get Down" & More Or Les's "Everybody Outside".

Cale Sampson's "Never Had a Choice" stands out as one of my favourite tracks, as he unfolds the story of the struggle often faced by emcees trying to establish themselves. David Hodges's "Online Radio Star" is another favourite, as he pokes fun at those emcees who rise to online fame without ever hitting the stage.

The always political Dope Poet Society stick with their strong views and provide a catchy chorus on "Devils in your Government." The organic beat on Vandal's "Mongolia" also impresses. The lounge vibe of Lameck Williams' "In the form of Hip-Hop" goes to show the diversity of Heads Connect artists.

Heads Connect Vol. 1 is what hip-hop should really be all about. Real messages combined with respect for diverse views, sounds and approaches to rap. It's about community and bringing like minded folks together.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Martin Finch - The Garnet LP
Location: Sackville, NS

Out of Sackville, NS comes Martin Finch with his debut solo album produced and recorded almost entirely by Classified. As former manager for Classified's late 90s group Ground Squad, I've definitely heard Finch's name around Atlantic Canada, but never until now as a rapper.

The album is what I'd call a typical debut album these days: Rough around the edges and at times fleeting in lyrical cohesion. The biggest rough spot is that Martin Finch's sometimes off beat flow could use some practice.

'The Garnet LP' weighs in a bit long with 23 tracks. The four artsy shorts, e.g. Deception, were my least favourite parts of the album. Included are 5 skits featuring the ecentric but lovable characters Beef & Broc Lee. I had a good laugh at 'Con Artist Skit' featuring Classified's usual skit master, Hai Hung.

The strength of this album lies in the beats and featured artists. The back-and-forth rhyme exchanges with Classified, along with the unique vocal sample on 'These Eyes' proved potent. 'Friday Night' starts off the album on a positive point with a catchy verse.

Several featured artists elevate the tracks by providing catchy choruses including Jordan Croucher on 'If This Is It?', Mic Boyd on 'Dreams' and Boy-ill on 'Dear Hip Hop.'

Now that Martin Finch has the 'Garnet LP' album out, I expect he'll get more mic time at live show. Ultimately this will give him the practice needed to shine up his flow to match that of his established collaborators.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Shadez - Every Dollar Counts
Location: Winnipeg, MB

When I was at the ECMAs in Halifax back in February, Classified's manager handed me off a copy of Shadez latest album. Since then I've popped it in and out of my cd player, but have struggled to really get into it. It's a solid album, but seems to be lacking real standout tracks.

The overall vibe is laid-back introspective and focused on struggles. For the most part they flip the struggles into uplifting messages such as on "It's Alright," but in the case the beat lacks an uplifting element.

The Shadez trio of Mr Bowen, Biggs and Bad Mannaz make solid concept tracks like the impressive "Dry Tears," but I found myself really having to focus to decipher their individual messages. I'll blame it on my ADD.

I think my favourite track is "Got Money," as the simplicity of K-Rupson's beat complemented with a nice vocal sample works well. The last bonus track "Stream," also impresses with a Three Six Mafia type of vibe. "Slip Away" was also included on Mood Ruff's album, and brings that same niceness I heard last year!

The beats are a bit slower and simplistic, but with a solid underground sounds with unique elements. The emcees' flow shows years of experience, but still I just struggled to get really into this album.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sean One - Full of It
Location: Fredericton, NB
Label: Dead Beats

Admittedly I have a track of my own, 'Invisible,' included on this Sean One album, but I tried to approach the album as unbiased as possible.

Sean is a veteran in the New Brunswick rap scene, first emerging as part of the Vet Cru in the late nineties. 'Full of It' showcases the progression of his beatmaking skills, placing him near the top of the crab bucket. It also shows the strong ties he's created with elite underground rap artists on both coasts.

Beatwise, standouts include Vancouver's The Dirty Crew on 'Big Grizlee'; the collabo with slick-tongued Digby/Fredericton emcee Mick D on 'Cut Us Loose,' and the upbeat funktified energy of the two pure instrumental tracks: 'Play Part III' and 'Gangstah Boogie Outro.'

My favourites are two of the more serious tracks, featuring slower and equally well pieced beats. Saint John's Above discusses the materialism that can pollute the mind of an insecure adolescent on 'Christie'. While Fredericton's Monark strikes strong with a tale of a young woman turning tricks on 'Anything for the Dollar,' who Monark encourages to get right so her seeds have a chance.

Sean's collaboration with Bonshah on 'Sign of the Times' remains one of my favourite tracks from DJ Loc Dog's infamous 40s & 9s Mixtapes. And on 'College Radio,' one can't help but wonder if Josh Martinez is lamenting over the lack of mainstream funding support (e.g. VideoFACT) for campus chart topping artists like himself as he sings "College radio killed the video star."

Unfortunately I found the drawl from Cee!!!!! on 'Tittie Balls' hard to stick through for nearly 5 minutes, and often skipped the track.

Overall, this is the most solid release to date from Sean One and a nice package of emcee talent from NB, Halifax and Vancouver.

Monday, May 14, 2007

D.O. - Northstarr
Location: Toronto, ON

'Northstarr' is a real nice debut album from the son of a preacher man, D.O. You might know him for his Stay Driven motivation speaking, and this uplifting mindset creeps into many of his tracks particulary the hits 'Defy the Odds' & 'Young Brother.'

The real strength of this album lies in the well crafty choruses of featured artists. Most impressive is his Art of Fresh beatmaking partner, Slakah the Beatchild on 'No Matter What,' 'End of the Day' and the posse cut 'Just Forfeit', which features Arabesque & G Stokes.

While tracks like 'Art of Fresh' & 'Bring It' are upbeat, funky, fresh and in your face party starters. While 'By My Side (Signs)' shows D.O.'s spiritual side.

Admittedly it took me a minute to adapt to D.O.'s vocal drawl, which my friend Nicole compared to sounding like "Snoop Dogg," but in the end it works. Overall this is a diverse album, where D.O. shows his ability to find the right beat to craft each song's message.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Chadio & Aalo Guha - Underestimated Raindrops
Location: Vancouver, BC

This CD appeared unexpectedly in my mailbox. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the beats, catering to the underground with a nice organic sound highlighed by the intro 'Gone Fishing.'

The flow of Chadio & Aalo is well refined, quick and impressive, especially on tracks like 'Pancakes,' but unfortunately that often comes at the expensive of the message. The content seems more artsy than my liking, as I often found myself struggling to figure out what it was they were trying to say with their raps, but that could due to their rapid-fire style of delivery.

'Solitude Song' is probably my favorite track as it incorporates a nice sample into the chorus. And the final track 'End of the Beginning' is a seemingly nice ode to The Doors.

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