Felt 3: A Tribute To Rosie Perez
"The boys are back, the boys of summer, and this time Ace Rock is the drummer." Thus states Murs on the opening track to his and Slug's collaborative project Felt's third installment. As is customary, this record is too named after a B-List celebrity that happens to be taking their fancy at the moment and while Christina Ricci and Lisa Bonet were pretty damn solid releases Felt 3 has the added bonus of featuring the mighty Aesop Rock on production duties and the results are effortlessly special.
Murs and Slug boast two of indie raps smoothest flows and when put side by side the rhymes are liquid. It's good to see these MC's out from behind their day jobs and Aesop Rock certainly gives them a plentiful backdrop on which to perform. His beats are crunching and refreshingly unpredictable. Meticulously crafted they glisten with detail and boom with such depth. It would be impossible not to raise your game as an MC to assure that this backdrop doesn't make you look bad. And raise their game they do.
Individually Murs and Slug have rarely slipped up and together their powers are two-fold. Hip hop collaborations are not always a guaranteed success, with egos and flows often finding it hard to play nicely together but as Felt, Murs and Slug rhyme like one entity. The lyrics bounce in every way, between each beat and between each MC, as they alternate verses and slot in rhymes each song evolves into impressively complex constructions. Ace slices these rhymes up with expert precision on the beats, they're equally complex, they're very dense and and very Def Jux. It was a tough ask to contribute anything to a project that already had a flawless back catalogue but with the addition of Ace this collaboration has turned into a supergroup for sure.Read more 3.5 star reviews
White Van Music
Almost a quarter of the way through this record we, the listener, are encouraged to "steal money from your grandmother's brazier...or take it from the whore on the corner... and buy this fuckin record." While this site by no means condones such behavior a prompt acquisition of Jake One's debut is strongly advised.
Seatle's Jacob Dutton, aka Jake One, has contributed production to some of the most well known artists in hip hop today and also to some of the lesser. He may not be a household name like some of his contemporaries but the respect he commands from those in the know is such that an album as expansive and diverse as White Van Music can flow so coherently while featuring MCs as varied as it does. What makes White Van Music so enjoyable and so unique is that it pitches underground heroes like MF Doom alongside tried and tested chart-topping heavyweights like Busta Rhymes. Having done tracks for G-Unit's debut Beg For Mercy he is accustomed to laying down dark atmospherics for a more hardcore style so to have that flow alongside rappers like De La Soul's Posdnous is something rarely heard.
But this isn't just your regular who's who of hip hop comp. He may dazzle us with the guest list but when Jake One pairs people up on the same track it becomes something quite special. The earliest of these collaborations is The Truth, featuring the gritty delivery of Freeway which is contrasted perfectly by the free flow of Brother Ali. Both rappers represent different ends of the spectrum but their partnership is inspired. More suited is the duo of Posdnous and Atmosphere's Slug. As they weave in and out over the expertly crafted shuffle/clap beat their similarities become obvious. This can also be said for White Van which features the slow, intense styles of Alchemist, Evidence and a brief appearance by Prodigy. This audio curation is only possible if the brains behind it has a deep understanding of the artists he is working with and Jake One certainly does.
There is no overriding style that ties every song together here and on paper it shouldn't really be this good. An album as stylistically diverse as this isn't going to please everyone all the time and does feature some rappers that don't necessarily float my boat. Keak da Sneak provides a laborious cut on Soil Raps and Little Brother's moment on Bless The Child is less than inspiring with the beat severely outstaying its welcome. However these moments of bordom are few and far between, the rest is pretty solid. Besides the aforementioned collaborations the other highlights are I'm Coming, the album opener featuring Nottz and Black Milk, an artist who, for me, is going from strength to strength, the menacing Dead Wrong featuring Young Buck and both the MF Doom cuts. Trap Door and Get 'Er Done really show this producers versatility and his nack for matching the right beat to the artist. Doom's hulking delivery skulks over a suitably shuffling beat that might plod along as you'd expect but the glimmers of jazz high-hat rhythm provide the dense warmth that is needed to support the weight of the voice. So instead of setting your iPod to shuffle you may as well go see that whore with the necessary cash you need to buy this album and the job's done.Read more 3.5 star reviews
The Undisputed Truth
The second full album from Brother Ali sees him turn a recent divorce, being a single dad and coping with losing his mother to cancer into more than a few tasty nuggets of hard hitting, intelligent hip hop. Since his debut Shadows On The Sun, Brother Ali has often become a breath of fresh air in this hip hop game blending well crafted lyrics with bass heavy, rolling beats. As a devout Muslim his raps have always been very earnest which set my alarm bells ringing from the start. While the constant tirade of thug rap bores the hell out of me there's something about rap with an overly positive message that makes me cringe, even if what they are saying is what I believe. But Brother Ali repeatedly avoids this pit fall often peppering this outlook with normal behavior like swearing and the odd bit of comedy.
To be honest, Shadows On The Sun blended these things more successfully and this album is starting to show signs of over-seriousness, a road Blackalicious took a while ago and their creativity has never recovered. A lot has happened to Ali since his debut which would explain this shift. His now ex-wife seems to have tried to kill him and her demise has left him in sole custody of his son, for the whole story see Walking Away. There has also been a war or two (Letter From The Government.)
But running through all this is what makes Brother Ali so individual, his flow. He has a style that can bring to mind Nelly or 50 Cent but is at the same time totally unique and with Atmosphere's Ant concocting deep, thundering beats the result is addictive. He can alter this style for slower beats (Here) making them intimate and then rise gloriously to beats like the awesome The Puzzle or the fierce Listen Up. The album is very well paced giving the listener time to recover with light numbers like Take Me Home and Uncle Sam Goddamn the kind of bumping swagger that would be ideal to bounce to in a low-ride ...if only my Nissan could handle it.
Though not quite so appealing as his debut, The Undisputed Truth is better than most and being an albino muslim rapper he can't help to make hip hop that looks at things differently. As long as he can keep his faith to a footnote and maintain his unique ability to spit the hard rhymes as well as the laid back tracks then he will continue to be a worthy light in these dark times.