Clipse – Til The Casket Drops

A Track-By-Track Review:

1. Freedom – A bit of a dark intro, this really  may have been better served as a closing track, as Push and Mal reflect on their actions and the effects of music on their lives, addressing any critics that may have crossed their path. Still a solid start. Sean C & LV on the production. 7/10.

2. Popular Demand (Popeyes) Feat. Cam’ron & Pharrell – Pusha described this one perfectly in an interview with HipHopDX: “I think I have the New York record…the hardest record on radio”. The first Neptunes-produced track on here, and the joint knocks. No glam, all grit, but it’s still catchy with a piano-driven beat and Pharrell on the hook. Solid feature from Cam, nothing too special on his part, though. Definition of “something for the streets”. 9/10.

3. Kinda Like A Big Deal Feat. Kanye West – Not only the street single, but this was the first song that was released off this album. There was, of course, hype around a new Clipse album, but this helped take it to another level. Dope verses from the brothers Thornton, but ‘Ye steals the show on this with one of his best features verses of the year.This is the first DJ Khalil appearance and its a dope one. He provides a wicked beat equipped with dope drums, and eery guitar, and some screams to top it all off. 9/10.

4. Showing Out Feat. Yo Gotti – The title is pretty indicative of what this one is about, as Clipse and Yo Gotti talk flamboyant lifestyles, “bitches and money”. Nice to see a Gotti feature, as most other rappers would have went the Gucci route this year. Malice drops a gem-verse on this one: “Re-Up Gang trinity, Lava, me, and Pusha T, got my money right, them haters tight like virginity”. 7.5/10.

5. I’m Good Feat. Pharrell – Album’s first single. Great song. They really move away from the “drug rap” on this one and make a great, feel good song that every can relate to. Dropped in early June and sounds just as good 6 months later. 9.5/10.

6. There Was A Murder – This is an incredible track. DJ Khalil on the production and its the best on the album. The Clipse discuss the number one code of the streets: never snitch (should have featured Cam on this one, huh). The beat has an exotic bounce to it, and features some dope guest vocals from an unnamed source. Pusha and Malice each come through for a strong verse. Nothing extra about this. Great production, great rapping, great track. 10/10.

7. Door Man – The hits keep coming as the Clipse link back up with the Neptunes for this one. Very similar to Popular Demand. Same horns and it knocks just the same. Another one for the whip and the streets. One of the Neptunes best efforts on the album. 9/10.

8. Never Will It Stop Feat. Ab-Liva – Another great track here with the Clipse in vintage form talking that drug ish. “I kissed that girl and I likes it like Kate Perry”. Ab-Liva makes his lone album appearance, and fits perfectly over some sinister production from Sean C & LV. The menacing keys make your face frown up and give this a Wu-Tang 2.0-type feel. 8.5/10.

9. All Eyes On Feat. Keri Hilson – This is bad, period. When it leaked a few months back it was OK, but in the context of the album it’s just wack. The Clipse admittedly tried to make more “club-friendly” tracks, and did so successfully with “I’m Good”, but this was too much of a step in that direction. Clipse still find find a way to ride the beat, Keri Hilson sounds decent, and the produciton is OK, but it’s so out of place – and it’s obvious. 6/10.

10. Counseling Feat. Nicole Hurst – What the above song couldn’t accomplish, this does so a bit better. The Clipse are again staying away from the Coke rap, this time talking relationships and their love for women on this. Pharrell with some guest vocals, along with Nicole Hurst. Not great, but nothing terrible. 6.5/10.

11. Champion – Here, Push and Mal talk about being on top, and their struggle to get their, and talk to those who haven’t been able to see the same success. Neptunes produced this one, too. Kinda bland. 7/10.

12. Footsteps – Things pick back up as we get more DJ Khalil production. The sound that worked so well on Fab’s “Never Let Go” is what we get here, and Pusha comes out first and rides the beat flawlessly for one of his best performances on the album. While Pusha advises listeners to follow in his footsteps, Malice cautions them, saying, “these footsteps could lead you astray”. Great hook courtesy of some uncredited vocals. 8.5/10.

13. Life Change – As they close the album, they look again reflect on the consequences of their actions and who it’s made them as people. As they admit their wrongdoings, they also look to steer others clear of the mistakes they’ve made. Nothing too profound, but it’s a solid close. 7/10.

It’s been a while (almost 3 years to the date) since we’ve heard from the Clipse in official album form, so word of their return brought plenty of hype and rightfully so. After proclaiming themselves as the “best duo ever” on their mixtape Road To Til The Casket Drops last December, they certainly had a lot to live up to on this album. The longtime knock against the Clipse was that their content wasn’t very diverse. Drugs, drugs, and more drugs. At the same time, they were – and still are – the best to do it with the Coke rap, as they were still, without question, some of hip-hop’s top lyricists, dropping metaphors left and right. And those are the strongest points on this album (plus “I’m Good”) – when they stick to the hard-hitting rap. Contrarily, the weak points come when they try to answer critics by moving away from the Coke rap, and focusing on other subjects (i.e. “All Eyes On Me”, “Counseling”).  The Neptunes have, for the most part, solid showings production-wise, as do Sean C & LV, but DJ Khalil steals the show producing 3 of the albums best tracks (“Kinda Like A Big Deal”, “There Was A Murder”, and “Footsteps”). While Til The Casket Drops starts off with an incredible 8 tracks, things come to a major halt at “All Eyes On Me”, and the album kind of crawls to the end from there. Still, this is another strong showing from the Clipse, but not quite enough to validate their gaudy claims of being the best two-man unit to ever step to the mic.

8/10.

Curren$y – Jet Files

He gets things going with “The Dossier”, one of his famous “in & out’s”, going in briefly before letting the beat ride out for the last 30-40 seconds. Things really take off on “Perfect Time”, one of the best SONGS (meaning complete with multiple verses + a chorus) on Jet Files. Behind a synth-driven beat, Spitta speaks on making moves and coming up in the rap industry, as he instructs to, “go left if the situation ain’t right.”

“Sleepless In New Orleans” is some “real life relationship shit” as Curren$y discusses the troubles of being a rapper in a relationship. After that comes “Stay Up”, one of the album’s gems. With the help of Columbus, Ohio’s Fly.Union, who supply both the chorus and the production, Curren$y talks about the trials and tribulations of his life, and how he manages to “stay up in the sky”. Later comes “The Seventies”. Curren$y describes this one perfectly himself in the chorus, as it sounds like something made to be bumped in a long-body, old-school Chevy.

He follows up with “The Pledge”, the final – and best – in & out. It starts slow, but it continuously grows throughout the song. The beat drops and he proceeds to  go in (If you don’t believe me, listen to this in a whip). It’s a Curren$y, so of course there has to be an ode to the smokers. Here on Jet Files, that’s the appropriately named, “Burn An Ounce”, as Spitta talks about flaming up over a bouncy, feel-good beat.

“I’m Just Dope” is equipped with some futuristic production and some lyrics, and is another strong track that’s made to ride to. He saves one of the best for last with “Living The Life”, on which he brings in Amalgam Digital labelmates Young Riot, and the incarcerated Max B (FREE MAX B!). Max B steals the show as the three pay homage to their distrubutor Amalgam Digital, coming through with one of his trademark hooks and a solid verse. After verses from Riot and Spitta, he comes back on the end to talk some shit, along with the nice Zapp & Roger-like action to cap it off.

Curren$y’s had one of the best year’s of any of the “Freshmen 10”, as he’s continued to keep material out and his name in the streets. He’s slowly developed a cult-like following, with everyone from black chicks in the south to hip-hop head white boys chanting, “JETS FOOL!”. Jet Files is yet another piece of quality music from Curren$y, who’s become one of hip-hop’s go-to-guys for music for smoke and ride to. JETS!

7.5/10.

Ghostface – Ghostdini: The Wizard Of Poetry In Emerald City

What’s set Ghost apart from the rest of the Wu is his consistency. He always finds a way to reinvent himself and reamain relevant (although Raekwon trumped him this year). On his latest effort, Ghostdini: The Wizard Of Poetry In Emerald City, that’s exactly what he does again, as this album is all about relationships, giving it a bit of an R&B feel. No worries, though, it’s still Ghost.

It kicks off with “Not Your Average Girl”, as Shareefa makes the first guest appearance on an album full of features. Over some solid Scram Jones production, Ghost talks about his quest for just what the title indicates – a high-quality female. “Do Over” hits right away, as Ghost flows over a soulful sample and some triumphant horns. It’s “Radio” Raheem DeVaughn who comes through to aid Ghostface this time, and he definitely does his things, bringing even more fervor to the song, as he and Ghost ask for a second chance at love. DeVaughn sticks around  for “Baby”, the albums first single, as well. Even though it’s the “D.O.A.” era, he makes nice use of auto-tune on this one.

After that comes a nice batch of songs. “Lonely”, “Stay”, and “Paragraphs Of Love” are all solid tracks, combining great, soulful production, with the great storytelling of Ghostface. Even though it’s not the rugged raps we’re typically used to, the lyricism is just as detailed and fill with passion, leaving every song laced with emotion Jack Night come through with a nice contribution on “Lonely”, while Estelle helps out on “Paragraphs Of Love”. As stated, earlier, this is still Ghostface, as one listen to “Stapelton Sex” will quickly prove.

“Guest House”, which features Fabolous and Shareefa (and makes use of Rick Ross’ Yacht Club beat) is a definite stand-out track. It doesn’t even matter that the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League beat has been used already, as Ghost vividly narrates a story of catching another man in the crib with his chick. Think a rap version of R.Kelly and Mr. Bigs’ “Contagious”. Ghost follow that up with “Let’s Stop Playin'”, another one of the album’s strongest songs. John Legend comes correct on the hook, as do Sean C & LV on the production.

If any other rapper were to make an album solely about relationships, they would probably get clowned, but Ghost pulls it off. Even though this is a different look from Ghost, he still remains true to himself, painting pictures at every turn. True emotion and soulful production make this an easy one to listen and relate to. Ghostdini: The Wizard Of Poetry In Emerald City is solid work from Ghost as usual.

8/10.

KiD CuDi – Man On The Moon: The End Of Day

Next to Drake, KiD CuDi’s built the loudest buzz among new artists this year, with the crossover hit, “Day N Nite”, in addition to appearances on 808’s& Heartbreak and Blueprint 3. However, despite his success, much remained in question about CuDi, as he fails to fit in the category of hip-hop or R&B, sometimes singing, sometimes rapping, and sometimes falling in between the two. Thus, it was difficult to know what to expect from CuDi on his debut album, Man On The Moon: The End Of Day.

From the very beginning, one can tell that this won’t be your traditional hip-hop album. He starts off with, “In My Dreams (Cudder Anthem)”, singing, welcoming the listener to his world. Common also makes his first appearance on the album, as he shows up at various times to narrate the album, as Man On The Moon, consists of 5 Acts – the first being Act I: The End Of Day. The first true song is “Soundtrack 2 My Life”, CuDi singing his hooks and rap/singing his verses. Here, CuDi speaks on the struggles he’s gone through, from his childhood to his recent rise to stardom.

Act II: Rise Of The Night Terrors, which has a noticeably darker feel, starts off with “Mr. Solo Dolo (Nightmare)”, one of the album’s standout tracks. Over a spooky, creeping beat, equipped with some powerful strings, CuDi does a bit of everything, singing, rapping, and simply talking sometimes. It all works, though, as CuDi questions his decisions and himself – Mr. Solo Dolo. “My World” is very similar, as it features another slow, dark beat, and a variety of deliveries from CuDi, as he reflects on his life and plots that one day, “This will be my world”.

From there, he goes straight into the mega-hit, “Day N Nite”. No song may have seen more remixes in the past year than this song. And what may be even more amazing than the fact that this song shot to #3 on the US Hot 100, and charted more than a dozen other countries is the fact that he wrote the song more than 3 years ago. Obviously, this is one of the best songs here, and is still as catchy as when it first came out. Kanye makes first appearance on “Sky Might Fall”, as he handles the production along with the help of CuDi.

“Alive”, “Cudi Zone”, and “Hyerrr” are all standout tracks, too. “Cudi Zone” is one of his most clear efforts at “rapping”, though he does sing on the chorus. However, the result is magnificent. On “Hyerrr” he collabs with his Cleveland partner, Chip Tha Ripper, for an ode to Mary Jane, one of CuDi’s well-known habits.

After getting past the fact that this isn’t your typical hip-hop album, and impossible categorize, Man On The Moon: The End Of Day, turns out to be an outstanding debut album from CuDi. Granted, there is an extremely dark feeling throughout, it’s hard to fault because they are true emotions. In a time when everyone appears to be trying too hard to be different, there is an authenticity to Cudi, and that’s what makes the album so good.

8/10.

Raekwon – Only Built For Cuban Linx II….

Since dropping Only Built For Cuban Linx in ’95, new Rae albums have been hard to come by, as he’s had just two releases since then. Still, anticipation for the follow up to his classic debut has remained through the roof. And while meeting those expectations may have been impossible for some to meet, Chef Raekwon succeeds with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II, a sequel nearly as potent as the initial masterpiece.

After a long monologue from Papa Wu on the intro, OB4CL2 gets going right away with the J Dilla produced “House Of Flying Daggers”. Featuring Inspectah Deck, Ghostface, and Method Man, this is a vintage Wu-Tang joint, even though it’s Dilla on the beat, not RZA. It’s still rapid fire, cinematic rhymes over some menacing  strings, plus a Kung-Fu sample at the end to top it off. On “Sonny’s Missing” Rae does what he does best – telling stories, painting pictures. Pete Rock comes through on the production, providing a gritty horn-driven beat for Rae to do work on.

RZA makes his first appearance on “Black Mozart”, lacing Rae with a dark beat with a grimy guitar, and a chanting chorus: “You better get that money no matter what you do”. Meanwhile Rae and Inspectah do their part, supplying equally poignant storytelling rhymes. We get the Rae and Ghost tag-team action for the first time on “Gihad”. Ghost really steals the show on the second verse, telling the story of smashing his son’s girl, a topic only he could successfully articulate. On the lead single, “New Wu”, as Rae, Ghost, & Meth spit over a RZA beat driven by a spooky sample.

The Alchemist comes through on “Surgical Gloves”, contributing one of the best beats on the album. While his fellow Wu members certainly do their part, the non-Wu features provide some of the best rhymes on the album. Jadakiss, Styles P , Beanie Sigel, Busta Rhymes all drop some of the most potent bars on the album, “Deadlier than the combination of coke and heroin”. The best production may come from Dr. Dre on “Catalina”, as he equips Rae with a rich and polished key-driven beat, while still remaining gritty enough for OB4CL2.

“10 Bricks” and “We Will Rob You” are two other standout tracks. The first features a wicked J Dilla beat, and stellar performances from Rae, Cappadonna, and Ghost, while the second is produced by Allah Justice, and features Slick Rick on the chorus, the lone appearance from GZA, as they play on the popular “We Will Rock You”.

While most albums would suffer from having 22 tracks, that not at all the case here, as Rae gives us track, after track, after track. The album is consistent all the way through. Every song has vicious rhymes and gritty, hard-hitting beats to match. The only knock is that there’s very little diversity in the feel and content of the album, but what else can you expect (or would you want) from a Raekwon album. This is hip-hop in its purest form. Nothing more, nothing less. Incredible album.

9.5/10.

Jay-Z – Blueprint 3…

A Track-By-Track Review:

1. What We Talkin’ Bout (Featuring Luke Steele of Empire of the Sun) – Hov comes correct right off the bat. Taking time out to address issues that he’s constantly bombarded with, he states that he’s beyond all of them, and “I don’t run rap no more, I run the map”. The bars are potent, the flow is on point, and the soulful, psychedelic beat, courtesy of Kanye and No I.D., is incredible. One of the album’s best tracks. 9/10.

2. Thank You – Another stellar track. Kanye and No I.D. lace Jay with another beautifully produced song. Supplying some witty word-play, over a horn-driven beat, he thanks those who have supported him, and details some a few aspects of his luxurious lifestyle. Jay’s admiration of Frank Sinatra is clear and really manifests itself here as his arrogant flow over the classy beat give this one an elegant feel. “We tip the waiter a hundred dollars to keep the ice cold alright”. 9.5/10.

3. D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune) – The first single, and it definitely shook some feathers. It’s important to note that this is not a song explicitly about the use (or over-use) of auto-tune. The voice-changing serves as a metaphor for anything corny or trendy, and needing to be put to rest. Yet another gem from No. I.D. 8.5/10.

4. Run This Town (Featuring Kanye West and Rihanna) – Second single. This is a hit. Point blank. Probably the most radio-friendly track on the album. Jay and Rihanna do their thing, but Kanye spazzes. 8.5/10.

5. Empire State Of Mind (Featuring Alicia Keys) – This is the gem of the album. Over a drum and piano-heavy beat provided by Al Shux, Hov contrasts his experiences as a youth in New York to how he lives now. The soul and emotion behind this, especially from Ms. Keys, make this somewhat reminiscent of “Can’t Knock The Hustle”. 10/10.

6. Real As It Gets (Featuring Young Jeezy) – This one is just aight in comparison to other songs on the album, and previous Jay and Jeezy collabs (i.e. “Hustlin’ (remix)”, “Put On (remix)”) The Inkredibles, who have gained notoriety for their predominantly with Southern artists, such as Ace Hood, DJ Khaled, Ross, and Jeezy, did the production. Thus, it’s a different sound than what we’re typically used to from Jay, and it never really takes off as one might anticipate given the title and reputations of the two artists. Not bad, though, just not one that stands out. 7/10.

7. On To The Next One – Swizzy!!! That about sums this one up, as Swizz Beatz laces BP3 with some of his best work in recent memory. It’s disgusting. Just straight shit-talkin’ right here. The “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” of Blueprint 3. 8/10.

8. Off That (Featuring Drake) – The song that sparked the BP3 hate. Expectations for this album were through the roof. Until this leaked. And after a negative reaction to this, as the rest of the album slowly leaked, the negative criticism continued. But after a few listens, this song really isn’t that bad. And in the sequence of the album (how it was meant to be heard), it’s even less painful. We’ve definitely heard better from Jay and Timbo, and whether the beat would be better served on a Nelly Furtado album is questionable, but the word-play is still solid. And this already getting radio spins. 7/10.

9. A Star Is Born (Featuring J. Cole) – While some dubbed Jay as merely name-dropping all-over the place a la Game on this, this is actually one of the more creative joints on the album, as he gives credit to a grocery-list of hip-hop superstars, and instructs to “clap for him”. He cleverly states that, “T.I. literally tried shoot up the charts”, and even addresses and applauds Eminem’s “Renegade” performance. J. Cole, the first artist signed to Roc-Nation, get some shine here, too, and holds his own with some heartfelt lyrics. 7.5/10.

10. Venus Vs. Mars – Another one BP3’s most creative songs. This is all about the word-play. Just listen. 8/10.

11. Already Home (Featuring KiD CuDi) – On paper this looks questionable. But damn. This actually turns out to be one of the album’s best songs. Cudi provides a top-notch hook, while Jay touches on his competition (or lack, thereof), being on top and his plans on remaining there. Excellent production from Kanye. “I’m in the hall already, on the wall already, I’m a work a art, I’m a Warhol already”. 9/10.

12. Hate (Featuring Kanye West) – This is an interesting one. Another Kanye beat. The song addresses just what you’d think it would given the title. Jay’s flow is on point, while Kanye’s slow, dragged out flow sounds a bit odd. It’s not bad by any means, as there definitely are some tight, catchy punchlines. 7.5/10.

13. Reminder – This is the Timbaland and Jay we’re used to. This sounds like something via “The Black Album” in both it’s feel and content, as Jay “reminds” everyone of his accomplishments over a sinister Timbaland production. People say Timbo slack on this album, and that may be a fair argument, but this is pure heat rock. 8.5/10.

14. So Ambitious (Featuring Pharrell) – One of the best tracks on here. Over a light, horn-driven beat, one that could only be cooked up by The Neptunes, Jay discusses over-coming various obstacles en route to arriving  where he’s at now. Pharrell’s hook gives this a real motivational-feel. There’s really no choice but to feel good and bob your head to this one. 9.5/10.

15. Forever Young (Featuring Mr. Hudson) – The refelective closing song. Think “Beach Chair” (but not as good). Yeah, he could have kept this one. It’s just dull. 5/10.

There were some lofty expectations for Blueprint 3, and rightly so. The leakage of “Off That” really tainted the initial response to the entire albm, in my opinion. No, this wasn’t Reasonable Doubt or The Blueprint or The Black Album, but this is a damn good album. You can honestly listen through the entire thing without touching the skip button (you can just press stop after “So Ambitious”). Had another artist had his name on the cover we’d probably be calling this his best album. Yes the content has changed from his earlier days, but one can’t deny that he can still flow. In fact, it seems almost effortless. And the word-play is as good as ever. Every song isn’t be a gem, so this isn’t a classic, but this is still a very, very good album.

8.5/10.

Trey Songz – Ready

Though he’s developed quite a national following, Trey Songz has yet to have that album. However, with plenty of activity in ’09, dropping mixtapes, remixes to some of radio’s hottest songs (“Blame It”, “Every Girl”), and disses (“D.O.A.”), there was reason to believe that with his third album, Ready, Trey Songz may actually be ready to ascend to the top of the R&B game, a genre with no real leader right now.

On Ready, he starts off on his baby-making ish, as he declares on the very appropriately titled intro, “Panty Droppa”. Following up with two songs of the same vein, “Neighbors Know Name”, and “Invented Sex”, Trey continues with his “lay it down” themed joints. The former features Trey showcasing his vocal skills, channeling his inner-R. Kelly, while he brings in Drake for the latter, making it one of the most radio-ready songs on the album.

Next up is the first single, “I Need A Girl”. A change of pace to the preceding songs, Trey speaks on finding “the one” for him over a light, upbeat, acoustic guitar-driven beat. Then comes, “One Love”, on which, as the title suggests, Trey professes his love for someone, remaining loyal, and having a relationship that is “made to last forever”. Calling in Bryan Michael Cox, the production is excellent on this one, with popping drums and an electric guitar that carries the song, in addition to a strong vocal performance by Trey.

“Say Ahh” serves as his club-banger, as he brings in Fabolous to discuss popping bottles at the club, getting drinks for the females, then telling them to, “say ahh”. Trey and Fab both do their thing over this club-ready, upbeat, driving track. Continuing with the features, Trey brings in two of hip-hop’s most popular artists, Soulja Boy and Gucci Mane, for the ever-so corny, “LOL : -)”, where the three play on the modern technology, Twitter, and communicating through text messages. “Shorty just text me, say she wanna sex, LOL, smiley face”. Corny and lame? Yes. But one must admit that it’s catchy as hell, and will be a hit, especially amongst the younger generation.

Though it began as Drake’s song, Trey did the wise thing and convinvcd Drizzy to throw “Successful” on his album, too, although this version features a full verse from Trey, and no verse from Wayne. Not as good as the original, but still one of the albums stronger songs. After that are two of the album’s best songs, as they feature Trey going in a different direction than we’ve seen before. While much of the album is about baby-making or being in love, “Black Roses” and “Love Lost” are darker, bringing out the best of Trey.”Black Roses” has a rock feel, crooning over a moving bass-line and raw drums, while “Love Lust”, sounds somewhat similar to Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”. The MJ influence is clear in Trey’s performance, and while he’s certainly no Mike Jack, it’s nice to see Trey steer away from the themes we’re so accustomed to seeing. And on the final song, “Yo Side Of The Bed”, he spazzes on the vocals.

Despite Drake’s declaration that “Trey Songz is the greatest R&B singer of our generation”, that’s not certainly not true after hearing “Ready”. Granted, there has been growth from his first album, I Gotta Make It, in ’05, he still has a ways to go. Still, Ready is a very solid album, with several strong tracks.

7.5/10.

Fabolous – Loso’s Way

Nearly 9 years in, 5 albums deep, Fab’s become one of the most respected lyricists in the game. No one can deny that, lyrically Fab’s a beast, and he’s become a feature and remix king, dropping hot 16’s and quotables left and right. However, there have always been a couple knocks against Loso. One – he still hasn’t managed to put together a great album despite his lyrical ability. Two – he overdoes it with the R&B collab songs. Both are valid points, and largely why anticipation for Loso’s Way was so heavy, as it seemed as though this could be The One. Could this be the album where Fab finally puts it all together?

He gets things started on the right note on “The Way Intro” addresses his critics, how he’s come up in the game, and the respect he deserves. It’s a great intro to the Loso we know and love, as he supplies his classic, witty wordplay: “Ya end up down under tryna holla at kuolas, I keep that 9 on me, Andre Igoudala”. A couple joints later comes “Feel Like I’m Back”. A sung/rapped chorus, some solid bars, and a beat by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League makes this one of the most memorable joints on Loso’s Way. It has been two years since his last solo effort, so he takes time out on this joint to reclaim his mark. “If you happen to bump into he streets, can you please tell ’em I’m back”. And from here the album really takes off.

The next block of songs is as strong as it gets: First up, “Everything, Everyday, Everywhere” featuring Keri Hilson. Then, “Throw It In The Bag” featuring The-Dream. Then “Money Goes, Honey’s Stay” featuring Jay-Z. And finally, “Salute” featuring Lil’ Wayne. The first two are infectious hits, calling for non-stop radio play, with production by Ryan Leslie and Tricky Stewart, respectively. The third was a Jay-Z American Gangster leftover that luckily fell into the hands of Fab who certainly does the beat justice. And the fourth is just a street smash, as Loso and Wayne both slaughter the beat.

The album hits the low point after that, though, with “There He Go”. Fab looks to put his team on with this one, as he call in Paul Cain, Red Cafe, and Freck Billionaire. As with most rapper’s albums, this is the track with where he lets his whole camp jump down. Great intentions, but unfortunately, the result is just another money, swag, I’m so fly, filler song.

Loso’s Way gets back on track right way, as Fab calls Ryan Leslie in again, for both a beat and a feature this time, on “Fabolous Life”, and discusses the luxurious life that comes along with rolling with Loso. Definitely one of the album’s best songs. Two more solid R&B features after that, as Ne-Yo helps out on “Makin Love”, and Trey Songz comes through for the catchy “Last Time”.

He saves two of the albums best, most introspective songs for the end. On “Pachanga”, the first real Carlito’s Way reference, he discusses friends that become strangers and enemies. Hence, the name Pachanga (Carlito’s right-hand man, who snitched on him and got him killed). Then, on “Stay”, he talk about the joys of being a father, as well as life without his father. With Marsha Ambrosious on this one, it’s an emotional song, with some heartfelt lyrics from Fab.

One thing you can be sure to get on a Fab album is big-name production, and Loso’s Way is no different, as the aforementioned Ryan Leslie and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, in addition to, The Runners, Jermaine Dupri, No I.D., The Alchemist, DJ Khalil, Sean C & LV, etc. all come through with stellar beats. Though the videos, internet leaks, and Carilto’s Way concept had anticipation for Loso’s Way very high, this is, for the most part, your typical Fab album. A few joints for the streets, a few for ladies, and some potential radio hits, along with a couple filler songs. And of course, the one constant, BARS from Fabolous. Unfortunately we don’t have a classic on our hand with Loso’s Way, but we do have yet another very good Fab album to add to the collection.

8/10.

Maxwell – BLACKsummers’night

It’s been 8 years since Maxwell’s last official album, Now. After performing for the first time in 7 years at the 2008 BET Awards, anticipation began to mount, and has only continued since, as the world has awaited the return of one of neo-soul’s finest artists. And with BLACKsummers’night, the first in his trilogy (the others are blackSUMMERS’night and blacksummers’NIGHT), Maxwell definitely comes correct. With 9 songs and 37 minutes, of soul-packed music, it’s hard to be mad at Maxwell’s hiatus or even want to question where he’s been.

He starts off grooving on BLACKsummers’night, with “Bad Habits”, the album’s second single. There, we get introduced to the excellent musicianship that exists throughout the album, as the horn section and bass player really get after on here. The beautiful horns continue on the next track, “Cold”, as Maxwell, sings “global warming ain’t got nothing on this chick she’s not to play with”, and asks of the lady, “how can you be so cold”? Then comes the albums first single, “Pretty Wings”, which has been burning up the R&B charts, and describes a relationship coming to a bittersweet end.

From there, he jumps into the driving “Help Somebody”, which has a bass line that feels like it belongs on a rock-n-roll track. But Maxwell makes it work, passionately delivering some heartfelt lyrics. On “Stop The World”, it’s back to the funk-soul vibe, as again, the bass line shapes the song, and Maxwell’s beautiful vocals do the rest. Though the topics aren’t too different from any other R&B album, relationships, make-ups, breakups, etc. – Maxwell still keeps it diverse, as the following track, “Love You” has an uptempo beat, unlike any other song on the album.

On the album’s finale, “Phoenix Rise”, Maxwell doesn’t even bother singing, as the infectious, synth, bass, keyboard, and percussion-driven beat does all the work, and GROOVES. BLACKsummers’night, is quite a return for Maxwell. Featuring an outstanding band, to go along with the impeccable voice Maxwell has shown so consistently since his first album in 1996, BLACKsummers’night ranks right up there with the best R&B albums of the year. With D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Lauryn Hill currently MIA, and with The-Dream, Jamie Foxx, Beyonce, etc. dominating R&B, there’s been a major void left in the neo-s0ul game. Luckily, Maxwell is here to restore that.

9/10.

Naledge – Chicago Picasso

Developing a solid national following after dropping The In Crowd with partner-in-crime Double O as Kid In The Hall, Naledge has spent much of his time since then concentrating on his solo effort, Naledge Is Power. In the meantime, he’s flooded the web with freestyle after freestyle. Chicago Picasso started off simply as a mixtape, however, turned into an album that is essentially, “the vaults of the Naledge Is Power ablum”, as Naledge states on Picasso’s final track. The album kicks off with some words from Naledge along with Chicago’s DJ Timbuck2, as Naledge explains the concept behind Chicago Picasso, which he so accurately describes as a “masterpiece, showing all aspects of Chicago”. He then proceeds to drop some bars over a beat with a smoothed out  jazz beat. Throughout Picasso, there are non-stop references to Harold’s Chicken, “El” Trains, Hyde Park, etc.

After the intro, the album really jumps off with “In My Own World” and “Standing On Sofas”, which both feature horn-driven, heavy-hitting, marching band-esque beats. They also mark the first of many strong features on the album, with Chicago’s Fooch and Mick Luter on “In My Own World”, and Cleveland’s up-and-coming Chip Tha Ripper on the latter. What you get here is what you get for the rest of the album – lyric-driven hip-hop with some witty wordplay.

Then comes “Focus”, which is followed by “Southside Shit”, which features Fooch once again along with some sick bars from GLC. As the title indicates, the joint is all about the Go, particularly the Southside. It starts off, “H-Y-D-E P-A-R-K, chillin at Harper’s Court, playin’ chess with the old men, on the steps of the church with the Moes, niggas roastin’, playing dozens and cussin'”. One of the album’s stronger tracks, it’s also the first with a SOULFUL beat. Then in mixtape fashion, comes a freestyle, over the first of two beats from Kidz In The Hall partner Double-O.

After the mellow, “Lovin My Life”, comes two of the Picasso’s best joints and features. First comes “Cool Relax”, on which Naledge discusses his makeup and his drive. Another Double-O production, this one features a potent verse from Jay Electronica. Then comes “Viva el Fantastico”. Unlike any other song on the album, this has a real futuristic feel, with synth-heavy beat. Mickey Factz makes a guest appearance and doesn’t disappoint.

Picasso slows down a bit after that, with a section of smooth joints. Naledge still spits hard, but they do kind of bring the mood of the album to a near-crawl. It picks back up with soulful “Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous”, and “Star Struck”. The former is a horn-driven beat with an old school feel, while latter, produced by Sa-Ra, has a DOPE sample that provides the soul. Accompanied by a great video, “Star Struck”, on which Naledge speaks about a chicks he admires, is definitely one of the better tracks on Picasso. The album wraps up with “Look At Them Hips”, which has a chopped and screwed sample, and nice appeareances by Bun B, Curren$y, and Doe Boy.

Overall, Chicago Picasso is a good release, even though it’s techinically not an “album”, which is a true testament to Naldege’s skills as an artist. Solid production, nice features, and “bars like Rush Street businesses” make this a good album and worthy cop.

7/10.

Cam’ron – Crime Pays

After a 3-year hiatus, Killa Cam is finally back, dropping his 6th studio album, Crime Pays, on May 12, 2009. Cam didn’t just take a break from rapping, but completely disappeared from the limelight. Even his own “brothers”, Jim Jones, Juelz Santana, etc. didn’t know where he was. Cam has since come back and said that he was in Miami taking care of his mother (who suffered 3 strokes), and, that he “could afford to chill”. Also during that time, Cam had a much-publicized fallout with Jones and Santana. Given all that, the Cam’s return, which he did a great job hyping through numerous interview, was one of the most anticipated of the year.

Cam’ron kicks the album off with, “Crime Pays (Intro)”, on which he documents how crime has brought more success than had he taken the legal route. After that come two of the albums stronger tracks, “Cookin Up”, and “Where I Know You From”, where Cam addresses naysayers, phonies, and dudes lookin’ for handouts. Then comes the first of four installments of the “Fuck Cam” skits. Skippable.

Cam gets back into the ablum with a strong block of songs, including, “Curve”, which introduces the newest Cam-ism. Curve, according to Cam’ron, means “get away from me”. Two joints that leaked early, “Silky (No Homo)” and “Get It In Ohio”, the street-single that’s been in heavy rotation, where Cam professes his love for the Midwest. The 5 song block is followed by another skit, “Grease”. Terrible.

Then come two awful tracks, “You Know What’s Up” and “Spend The Night”, which are just downright ignorant. Cam then takes time out to take shots at former partner-crime, Juelz Santana, on “Fuck Cam #2”. The “mad rapper” speaking on the skit is mad about Cam’s success, and concludes saying, “I’m born to lose, built to win”, the name of Santana’s upcoming album. Cam comes with another strong set of songs after that, highlighted by “Woo-Hoo” which features  40 Cal, one of the few Diplomat members who Cam still associates with. Other standout tracks are the single, “Cookies-N-Apple Juice”, “My Job”, “Homicide”, and “Got It For Cheap”, which has a fast-paced, hard-hitting, classic Diplomat beat.

If Crime Pays looks, sounds, feels, like Purple Haze, Cam’s 2004 album, it should. It’s got 23 tracks to Haze’s 24, and both albums have several skits. Moreover, all of the production, save “Cookin Up”, “Got It For Cheap”, and the skits, is handled by Skitzo, whom Cam worked with before (Get ‘Em Daddy). Cam sticks to what he knows on Crime Pays: sample-heavy production and clever (or corny) wordplay. Crime Pays is a solid outing, and certainly better than his last album, Killa Season, but he won’t be winning over any new fans here. If you like Cam, you’ll like the album, if not, don’t bother.

6/10.

Method Man & Redman – Blackout! 2

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It’s been a long-time coming for Blackout! 2, but after a series of pushed back release dates, Meth & Red, hip-hop’s Cheech and Chong, finally dropped the sequel to their first album, Blackout, this past Tuesday, May 19. With some doubting whether they could still bring the heat, especially in light of Joe Budden’s recent attacks on Method Man, the two had a chip on their shoulder for this album. Although it’s been 10 years since their last album together, Meth & Red, show they haven’t missed a beat on Blackout! 2.

They come out of the gate with a solid intro, “BO2”, where both rappers lay down strong verses. But the song, “I’m Dope Nigga”, produced by Havoc, is what really ignites the album. After that comes the first single, “A Yo!”, and then, “Dangerous Emcees”, songs laced with lyrics, energy, production that will satisfy any hip-hop aficionado.  After that it gets tempting to hit the “Skip” button, on “Errbody Scream” and “Hey Zulu”. They’re not bad tracks, but they don’t have the same vibe as the rest of the album. Luckily, those are the only two sore thumbs.

The rest of the album is filled with dope tracks and Meth & Red show that they’re still in tip-top shape. The features are not too overdone, and highlighted by Bun B (“City Lights which features a Pimp C sample, too), and Raekwon and Ghostface (“Four Minutes To Lock Down”). Of course, they make one for the smokers, properly titled, “Diz Iz 4 All My Smokers”. Lyrically, Redman’s outshines Meth, but Meth’s gritty swagger is as on point as ever.

What makes Blackout! 2 so good is the nostalgic feeling that is present throughout the album. In a time where doing what’s trendy is far too common, Meth & Red do a great job sticking to what they know. Their natural chemistry, combined with a group of some of hip-hop’s most respected producers, including Erick Sermon, Havoc, Pete Rock, and DJ Scratch, and Bink!, provide for a strong, strong album. While it may not be as good as the first one, Blackout! 2 is great return for one of Hip-Hop’s most charismatic duos.

7/10.

Curren$y – This Ain’t No Mixtape

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After stints with No Limit and Cash Money, Curren$y spent 2008 getting his independent hustle on, dropping 7 mixtapes, and generating a nice buzz in the process. Finally, he’s come with the official album, appropriately titled, This Ain’t No Mixtape. If you’ve followed Curren$y’s mixtape game, from Higher Than 30,000 Feet to Fin…, you’ll hear the difference as soon as you start listening to the album. This Ain’t No Mixtape is clean and focused, as opposed to his mixtapes which, as good as they were, were naturally all over the place.

Spitta takes time out on the intro, “The Briefing”, to walk through his mixtape history, and prep the listener for what they’re in store for. He begins with, “Get It Ya Self”, a song obviously inspired by his failed experiences with former record labels. Next up is the single, “Blown Away”, which is followed by “Scared Of Monstas” – the only two songs to be released in their entirety prior to the album’s release.

Then comes “Elevator Music”, one of many smoker’s anthems Curren$y supplies on the album. Each of the album’s 16 joints are dope, with the standout tracks being, “Blown Away”, “The Jets Son”, “Sail On”, and “Galaxy”. He doesn’t overdo it with the guest appearances either, with stellar performance coming in the form his team, Fly Society, Young Chris, Mickey Factz, Amanda Diva, and Bun B.

While a couple of the tracks aren’t as strong, none are skip-worthy, and the album flows cleanly all the way through. Such continuity should be attributed to Curren$y working exclusively with production team Monsta Beatz, as nothing seems out of place and there is an clear chemistry between Spitta’s weed-influence rhymes and Monsta Beatz’s futuristic sounding beats (they sampled The Jetsons theme song on one of the tracks).

It’s great to see Curren$y come with his album, as too often rappers like him, who leave major labels, can never, for whatever reason, get their album out. In Spitta’s case going independent was the way to go, and he took full advantage of the power of the internet. The album is not in stores, rather only available for download via amalgamdigital.com.

7.5/10.

Rick Ross – Deeper Than Rap

deeperthanrap

It’s been a hell of a year for Ross. He dropped a dope album, Trilla, fought off CO allegations, and got entangled in a much-publicized beef with 50 Cent. The pressure was definitely on for Rick Ross to perform on this album, and with Deeper Than Rap, he certainly doesn’t disappoint. Ross doesn’t get too innovative on the album, sticking to the standard Rick Ross themes: money, cocaine, women, and addressing the haters. Everything that comes with being a “Boss”.

Deeper comes hard right away with the street single, “Mafia Music”, then keeps it coming with “Maybach Music 2”, “Magnificent” – the official single, “Yacht Club”, and “Usual Suspects”. Quite a way to start an album. Other bangers include, “Rich Off Cocaine” and “Murder Mami”. Of course he addresses Curly and any other critics, specifically on “Valley Of Death” and “In Cold Blood”.

Unfortunately, the album isn’t exempt of the need for a skip button. Most of the flaws have to do with failed with R&B collabos. Ironically, two of R&B’s biggest stars, The-Dream and Ne-Yo, provide vocals on the album’s worst songs, “All I Really Want” and “Bossy Lady”.

As good as Ross’ flow is on the album, the real stars of the album are J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, the production team Ross has gotten up with to create the likes of “Maybach Music” and “Luxury Tax”. They’ve slowly become some of the top producers in the game with their intricate, soulful, and sonic beats. On Deeper Than Rap, they produce 3 of the album’s top 4 or 5 songs: “Maybach Music 2”, “Yacht Club”, and “Rich Off Cocaine”, as well as the current single, “Magnificent”.

Deeper Than Rap is no classic, but it’s definitely another solid album from Rick Ross, full with appearences by Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne, Nas, John Legend, Avery Storm, and more. Although there are a couple missteps, Ross comes correct, and as long as he’s smart enough to stick with J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, he’ll be good to go for years to come.

8/10.

Jadakiss – The Last Kiss

Jadakiss is without question one of the dopest, most respected lyricists in the game. Every one from B.I.G. to Nas to Jay to Mary J. has given him the cosign, and he’s remained among the elite in the game since he came in the game with The Lox during Bad Boy’s glory days. However, his first two albums failed to deliver what all knew he was capable of. Don’t get it twisted, Kiss Tha Game Goodbye (2001) and Kiss Of Death (2004) were solid albums, but with the lyrical ability he possess, he’s held to a higher standard than most rappers. Many felt that his mixtape, “The Champ Is Here”, was in fact better than the succeeding album – Kiss Of Death.

The Last Kiss hits hard right out of the gate. The first track, “Pain & Torture”, is that short, scrunch-your-face-up intro, where rapper’s come with nothing but BARS. The albums moves strongly after that, with the current single, “Can’t Stop Me”; down-south pleasers, “Who’s Real”, featuring OJ Da Juiceman and Swizz Beatz, and “Something Else”, featuring Young Jeezy; and a soulful joint, “Grind Hard”, on which Mary J. Blige supplies some fierce vocals.

‘Kiss has plenty for the “Heads” on the album, as well. “One More Step” is the Kiss/Styles P. tag-team that they’ve perfected– as well as – if not better than – any other tandem in the history of the game, and on “Cartel Gathering”, he brings in the gods Ghostface & Raekwon (are these the 3 top dogs from NY right now?).

Jada hits on the introspective tip, too. On “What If”, featuring Nas, he poses a laundry list of “What If” questions, such as “What if Peyton was fightin’ dogs instead of Mike Vick?” (It’s very similar to “Why?”). Jada talks to Notorious B.I.G. on “Letter To B.I.G.”, and gives him an update on the current state of the game, and what he’s missing – or not missing – out on.

All that being said, there’s still filler. The two Pharrell tracks, “Stress Ya” and “Rocking With The Best”, are WACK. And “Smoking Gun”, featuring Jazmine Sullivan is just unnecessary. Lastly – and surprisingly – the joint with LOX teammate Sheek Louch, “Come And Get Me” is disappointment.

As you can see, the album’s a little heavy on the features. And minus the four tracks mentioned in the above paragraph, we might be looking at one of the best albums in recent memory. Instead, we’ve got another strong, but flawed Jadakiss album, and again, the preceding mixtape, “Kiss My Ass: The Champ Is Here Pt. 2”, is better than plastic-wrapped product.

All in all, The Last Kiss is packed with plenty of heat, and is no doubt better than most of the garbage coming out now, and is definitely worthy of your $10-$15.

7/10.

Ryan Leslie – Ryan Leslie

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In the past few years, Ryan Leslie has made his mark on the music game producing and writing songs for everyone from Britney Spears to Cassie, and New Edition to Jim Jones. A Harvard graduate at age 19 with degrees in Government and Economics, Leslie – singer/songwriter/producer/musician/ – is one of the most talented cats in the game. Since 2006, Leslie’s developed a huge buzz on the web via his YouTube channel, and in 2007, Leslie began recording songs for his official debut album (his first debut album, Just Right, was shelved in 2003). After two years of mild airplay with singles “Diamond Girl” and “Addiction”, Leslie’s self-titled debut album finally hit stores this past Tuesday, February 10.

Ryan Leslie is one of the best, most balanced, R&B albums in recent years. While many R&B artists have struggled, being “too hip-hop”, or “too soft”, Leslie finds a happy medium between the two. The singles,  “Diamond Girl”, “Addiction”, and “How It Was Supposed To Be” are definitely the standout tracks. They’re synth-heavy cuts with a nice club bounce to satisfy those looking for a more upbeat hip-hop feel. On the other hand, for those that prefer a more traditional R&B ballad, tracks such as, “You’re Fly, “Valentine”, and “I-R-I-N-A” are up that alley. He’s even got songs for the Pop-Crossover crowd, particularly, “Quicksand”, which has a beat that could’ve made it on a Maroon 5 album.

Why his songs aren’t all over the radio, I have no idea, especially since he’s got the type of songs that rappers love to hop on, as Fabolous (“Addiction”) and Jadakiss (“How It Was Supposed To Be (remix)” – not on the album), have already shown. Even Leslie occasionally starts spitting over a couple of his tracks.

Although Leslie’s not the best vocalist, his melodies, production, and ability to hit the falsetto notes are through the roof. All that makes for a great debut for Ryan Leslie, and one of the best R&B albums in a minute. As long as he keeps making music, and doesn’t go back to his behind scenes work of songwriting and production, Leslie will be a mainstay on the R&B scene.

7.5/10.