Immortal Combat

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Those of you who know me, know that gospel music is not my area of expertise. Aside from Kirk Fraklin, Mary Mary, Yolanda Adams and other “contemporary Christian” artists, I couldn’t tell you much about the genre. With that being said, I was slightly hesitant to review Hostyle Gospel’s latest album, Immortal Combat. Upon listening to the album, however, my qualms soon began to fade, as I realized that while Immortal Combat has an overarching Christian theme, it is, in essence, still a hip-hop CD.

Comprised of Christian MCs, Proverb, King Soloman, and Big Job, the Champaign group, Hostyle Gospel released their second studio album, Immortal Combat, in January of this year.

Upon listening to the album’s opening track, listeners have no idea what to expect judging by the start of the album’s opening track, “Welcome to the Show.” The phrase,  “welcome to the show” is sung, then yelled, and as the rapping begins (about a minute in), we learn, that this is in fact, “not a show.”

Throughout the album, Hostyle Gospel does a great job sonically matching their instrumentals to theme of their lyrics. Numerous times, particularly when listening to “D.H.B.” and “Souljas,”  found myself saying aloud, “this sounds like fight music,” or “this reminds me of something you would hear in a videogame,” only to then remember that the CD is titled Immortal Combat, a play off of the 1990s videogame, Mortal Kombat.

Immortal Combat is an incredibly honest album, as the members manage to rap about their personal relationships with Christ/Christianity, and as a result, they manage to avoid sounding “preachy” (although I did find the interlude between “Tell Stan It’s ON” and “Callin’ Out to To You”  to be sermon-like and out of place, as it did not fit the hip hop feel that present throughout the rest of the album). On my favorite song from the album, “Proverb’s Letter,” Hostyle Gospel call out current chart-topping artists such as Jay-Z, Drake, Rick Ross, and Lil’ Wayne even saying “half the time he’s (Lil’ Wayne) not in his right mind, so I don’t believe him,” (I’m forced to agree, the man admittedly drinks “sizzurp” and goodness knows what else, he’s not a reliable source of much).

It’s certainly refreshing to hear lyrical content that’s not centered on materialistic ideals or illegal activity. I’m sure Hostyle Gospel will have all Christans “throwin’ their C’s up” in no time.

To purchase Immortal Combat, visit Amazon.com.

Whatever Happened to the MC?

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My favorite line from a hip hop song in 2010 (or at least the second half of it) comes from Dom Kennedy’s feature on Curren$y’s song, “Real Estates,” from the Pilot Talk II album, where Dom spits:

“You singin’ ass rap niggas, sympin’ all the time/Fuckin’ up the game, niggas fuckin’ up my name…”

While his word choice is a bit more vulgar than my own, Dom and I share the same sentiment regarding this latest “trend” in rap music – singing rappers.

Now while there’s nothing wrong with singing a hook or two, it’s just plain annoying when rappers make this a habit. There are too many starving R&B singers out there who would be more than happy to sing on a track for a $5 footlong from Subway for these rappers to ruin what are oftentimes great instrumentals. As previously documented, I love Kanye West, but I could NOT listen to 808s & Heartbreaks without wanting to throw my iPod out of the window. “Runway” could have easily been one of my favorite Kanye West songs had just kept the singing for his (incredibly hilarious) chorus. To be completely honest, I don’t think the hook would have worked had Kanye not sung it. However, this is rarely the case. His protégé, Kid Cudi, went to high school with my cousins, so although I feel a special “connection” to him, I still believe that he is horribly overrated. I’d love to assess his flow, if he HAD one. Maybe it’s because I don’t smoke marijuana, but the simple thought of listening to so-called “rappers” sing off key for the duration of an entire album is nothing short of painful.  People always look at me like I’m crazy upon learning that I, a Curren$y fanatic, do not like Wiz Khalifa. In addition to the fact that his subject matter is extremely narrow (and I’m not being a hypocrite-  Spitta at least announces his topic of discussion, “Racecars and Weed Jars,” in at least every other track), Wiz cannot sing, but insists on doing so. It drives me absolutely insane. Very few rappers can successfully pull off rap’s version of “double-consciousness,” (Phonte, Mos Def, Drake…kinda) so they should stop trying.

MCs- don’t quit your day job.

Me and Mr. Jones

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Q Bossa Nostra

Maybe you should put the glass down, sir.

Note: Today’s entry was originally written for the official publication of the Chicago Chapter of the Grammy University Network, titled The Wednesday Word, which is available for viewing at Grammy365.com.

Quincy Jones is officially old and senile, or he has just simply lost all his damn sense. Why the harsh words, you ask? As if the piping hot mess that was “We Are the World 25” wasn’t enough, (I don’t have the time nor the space to mention everything that was wrong with that idea alone, nevertheless the actual recording) his latest project, Q: Soul Bossa Nostra, released yesterday, is a series of remakes of some of Jones’ best work. The first single from this album is a cover of one of my favorite Michael Jackson songs “P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing)”, from the classic Thriller album. This cover featues Robin Thicke and none other than, ….wait for it…… T-PAIN!  T-Pain does not belong on any type of tribute album unless it is to Roger Troutman or Devante Swing of Jodeci. Quincy Jones and T-Pain collectively spit while doing the A-Town stomp, followed by an hour of P90X on Michael Jackson’s grave with this recording.

To top it all off, Quincy Jones told Rap-Up.com that he has “never seen so many haters in his life.” Sir: you are SEVENTY-SEVEN years old, your age, along with the fact that you are now involved in the business of ruining R&B classics, prohibits you from using any type of slang- particularly when it’s used to bash others who see the extreme error of your ways.

T-Pain was even featured on Kanye West’s 2008 single, “The Good Life,” which samples P.Y.T. Why couldn’t he just leave it as it is? But I can’t even be all that mad at him. Autotune is all that T-Pain knows, and it has yet to fail him.

Mr. Jones, however, should know MUCH better. If senior citizens can have their driving licenses taken away, then Quincy Jones needs to have his right to grant “artists,” such as T-Pain, permission to ruin perfectly good songs revoked as well. Kanye West, Monica, and Memphis Bleek are all artists who have tastefully sampled P.Y.T in past recordings- they all understood the old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” especially not with your autotune machine and the circus clown that is T-Pain. Hopefully enough “haters” like myself will come forward and complain in order to ensure that an injustice like this never happens again.

SevSeveer Says…

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Good Day Blogosphere (It really is, 70 degrees in November… in Illinois?!)!

Written by guest blogger and fellow hip-hop head, Troy Brundidge- better known in music circles as SevSeveer, today’s post is a review of’ latest mixtape from Chicago MC, Charity Clay; titled The Smokey Winston Project (big ups to Troy for showing the female MCs some love).

The Smokey Winston Project

The Smokey Winston Project

“From my pops I got patience, my mama gave me stubbornness/ streets gave me courage and the fam’ gave encouragement/ between the two I got a double dose of nourishment/double dose of knowledge from street scholars and college/ product of it all so all I acknowledge—the diamond in the rough that got polished”
If you’re the type who is interested in getting the scoop on an artist before they blow up, look no further than this lyrical gem from Charity Clay. Her November 2nd release, The Smokey Winston Project is glittered with raw hip hop extrospection, as well as a fair dose of introspection in trying to find her voice as an emcee.  Produced by beatsmith Smokey Winston, the album is a solid display of literary skill, and hopefully only a prelude to future projects on the horizon.

As an emcee, Clay’s story telling abilities are enhanced by honest, non-fiction bars combined with
next-level creativity. “Runnin Man”—which vividly describes the process of trying to settle a man afraid of commitment—and “Other Side of the Pillow”—a song that displays C-Dot’s singing talent and takes the classic story telling format of describing the chronological events in a day—are very well written accounts that leave you with an overwhelming feeling of “realness”.

My favorite track, “Relax and Listen”, is punchline-heavy and easy to vibe out to; and along with the infectious harp sample in a crisp Smokey Winston instrumental, this one is a must-repeat.  And for hip hop heads and geeks alike, C-Dot goes in for 10 bars straight comparing whack emcees to a bug soon to be caught in anti-virus software.

For all who are fans of lyricism, The Smokey Winston Project is ear candy. However, from the beatsmith’s perspective, the album may disappoint those who hear drums before lyrics. Although Smokey Winston’s instrumentals have a welcoming jazzy feel to them, they lose power as the album plays out, using the same kick and hand clap for nearly every song. Altogether the album becomes somewhat blurred by the repetitive production.

I first heard Charity Clay on “Done With 09,” a single with the late Rarebreed Extended Family posse, and was immediately moved by her bar structure and cool, calm flow. Since then, I have been waiting for her next album release, and The Smokey Winston Project comes correct as a collaboration between two artists who are clearly in it for the quality. There is no limit to C-Dot’s potential as an artist, and her talent will have emcees and beatsmiths scrambling for future collaboration opportunities.

Troy Brundidge “Sev Seveer”
Writer
on air-talent (The Hip Hop Project on WLUW 88.7 FM)

Oh Kanye…

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For the past two weeks, it seems that every music news outlet has been ranting (some rave, some don’t) about Kanye West’s latest music video/mini-movie “Runaway.”

I, however, refuse to hop on the bandwagon. I won’t sit here and pretend as if I understand all of the metaphors and allusions (even though most of these said metaphor are supposedly metaphors for Kanye himself, which makes sense if you’re familiar with Mr. West’s self-centered nature) within the video, and I can’t even act like I didn’t yawn a few times while watching it. To be completely honest, I didn’t even know when the video was premiering—I just happened to be hanging out with some people who were alerted about its debut via Twitter, and we caught it halfway through. It was visually stimulating though, there were tons of pretty colors and I was in awe of the talent of the ballerina dancers (but not in awe of Kanye’s ridiculous use of the voicebox, it’s as if he was given one for Christmas and refused to put it down for an entire year. The voicebox/autotune is the sole reason why I don’t regret not purchasing 808s & Heartbreak. Note to Mr. West: this is not 1987 and you are not Roger Troutman…but I digress).

So instead of critiquing or dick-riding Kanye West’s new level of “greatness” as a video director, I’ll just stick to the basics. I.LOVE.KANYE WEST.

Yes, I said it. I can probably count on one hand the number of current popular artists (not counting mixtape artists or long established legends) that I truly love, and of those artists, Kanye West tops the list. I love Kanye West so much that I’m even willing to forgive him for that mess of an album that was 808s & Heartbreak. Don’t get it twisted, that album had some bangers, but it was nowhere near the quality of the other albums.

The man is a freaking genius, as both a producer behind the scenes, and as an MC in his own right. Who didn’t roc (all pun intended) with the “Izzo” instrumental, and I dare ANYONE to tell me that College Dropout is not a classic album. Not a hip-hop classic, but simply a classic, one that transcends genres, race and creed. Late Registration and Graduation also followed suit- I still find myself cracking up over the “Broke Phi Broke” skits, and to this day I shriek in excitement over the beat drop of  the track, “I Wonder.”

Not to mention that Kanye puts on one hell of a live show. I’ve had the luxury of seeing him twice – once at the 2005 WGCI Big Jam with Twista, back when he was still a fairly new MC, and another time at the 2008 “Glow in the Dark” tour.  The “Glow in the Dark” tour was by far the best concert I’ve ever been to (and I can’t count how many concerts I’ve attended). As a matter of fact, I don’t think it’s fair to even call “Glow in the Dark” a concert- it was more like an experience. As much as I love writing, I don’t think I’ll ever to be able to describe how amazing that show was, therefore I won’t try. I’m still hoping that the tour is one day released on DVD, so that my memories won’t have to be exclusively mental in nature.

Best live show of MY LIFE.

Even putting talent aside, I still can’t help but love Kanye West. His arrogant nature and outlandish behavior that accompany are enough to make one shrink in their seat, but only so they can hide their face while laughing. His temper tantrums are challenged only by those of Elton John, and Sir John has had many more years in the spotlight to perfect such an art (I can only imagine what it’s like to be the publicist for either man). When half the country turned their backs on Kanye after “Taylor-Gate” of the 2009 VMAs, I admit, I contributed a few “WTF Kanye”s to the dialogue myself. Within moments, however, I found myself chuckling and moved on. The whole concept is still hilarious to me: the category of “Best Female Video” had absolutely NOTHING do with him, but trust Kanye to find a way to place himself in the situation (And let’s be honest here, Taylor Swift benefited greatly from this incident).

 

TaylorGate

Without Kanye, there would be no infamous "Kanye Shrug," and Twitter would be a much more boring place.

You see, Kanye is like that family member who simply does not know how to act; and everyone knows this, but you love him anyway because he’s family. Whenever he throws a bitch-fit for a myriad of reasons, the typical reaction is usually along the lines of “Well, that’s Kanye for ya.”

I think the real reason I simply adore Kanye West is that he made it okay to be a surbanite in the hip-hop game, and his lyrics reflect such. Gone are the days of  “acting hood” just to fit in, a concept that I struggled with for some time when attempting to gain acceptance during those awkward pubescent years. As someone who has no “ghetto story” to share (nearly everyone in my family is a professional of some sort and I’ve always lived in the most suburban locations on earth), I’ve always enjoyed the lyrical flow of many MCs and the beats and breaks over which they rhyme, but I haven’t always been able to say that I could relate to the content of their lyrics, however, I found my bread and butter in Mr. Kanye West.  Kanye; thank you for entertaining me with your music as well your antics, but more importantly, thank you for showing me and countless others that it’s okay to be yourself when society tells you it’s not.

Passion, Pain, & Pleasure

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I actually wrote this review for the Grammy University Network back when Passion, Pain & Pleasure dropped- about a month ago. But my recent adventures with my right hand woman, Sydni, have made me anticipate seeing Trey Songz at Usher’s OMG tour with her. Not to be mistaken, we are far from Trey Songz fanatics (one of our past times is to impersonate him, although no one can beat this guy ), but I understand his appeal and I can rock with some of his songs. Nevertheless, my album review is below. Enjoy!

Passion, Pain & Pleasure opens with an instrumental introduction, “Here We Go Again.” This album, like many others that released this year, is mixed so that it literally flows together – there are no pauses between songs, making it even easier to play the album all the way through.  Songz wastes no time and jumps headfirst into the “babymaker” songs that he has become infamous for. “Love Faces,” “Massage,” and “Alone” (the instrumental of which sounds eerily like  “Every Girl” by Young Money) all revolve around one particular topic, and with lyrics such as “Lose the panties and the bra, I’ma start with a massage,” Songz does not leave much to the imagination.

Halfway through the album, and Passion, Pain & Pleasure seems more like a second of edition of Ready, particularly “Bottoms Up,” the lead single from the album which is seemigly modeled after Songz’s Top 10 hit, “Say Ahh.” While catchy and very fitting for the club atmosphere, “Bottoms Up” is essentially yet another song about drinking (with yet another obnoxious verse from Nicki Minaj, when will it ever end?).

After the “Pain” interlude, however, Passion, Pain & Pleasure takes a turn for the better. The album’s second single, “Can’t Be Friends” is just what audiences would expect of a Johnta Austin production, a catchy slow jam that kicks off what I have deemed Songz’s “begging portion” of the album. After “Can’t Be Friends” comes “Please Return My Call,” which is pleading at his best. Songz clearly wants this woman to return his phone calls more than Anthony Hamilton wanted “Charlene” back and makes John Legend’s pleas for “Maxine” look elementary. Jokes aside, “Made to Be Together” is by far the best track on this album, a danceable slow song, Songz puts his typically dramatic vocals on the back burner and provides audiences with a clear-cut, honest performance. While I kid about the “begging portion,” the “Pain” portion of the album displays a mature side to Songz’s music, proving that he is able and willing to sing about something other than the physical aspect of romantic relationships.

Things begin to pick up during the “Pleasure” segment of the album. Songz begins this part of the album by stating “They say all I sing about it sex right?” and then begins the sexually driven song, “Red Lipstick.” Here, Songz clearly embodies the principle of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” “Unusual” features Songz’s partner-in-crime, Drake, and provides an upbeat alternative to the “Passion” section of the album. Songz ends the album with “Blind” and “You Just Need Me,” two songs that venture into the “electro” hip-hop and R&B genre that has experienced increasing popularity within urban music throughout the past few years.

The concept of Passion, Pain & Pleasure is brilliant, fans can play an entire section of the album dependant on their mood, instead of having to single out a particular song. This album is exactly what audiences expected of Songz (although one or two more club bangers could not have hurt, as Songz may have alienated some of his male fans with all of the slow love songs), and while such an album is nowhere near disappointing, I hope that Songz will exceed our expectations on his next LP.

Not just smoke and mirrors

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Last night (or technically two nights ago, as I am typing this well after midnight), I had the luxury of attending the Smoker’s Club Tour stop in Champaign, Ill.  The tour features up and coming rappers, Smoke DZA, Big K.R.I.T. and Curren$y.  I’m sure my excitement concerning this show worked the very last nerve of my close friends and family, as it was all I talked about (besides the LSAT, something I’d rather forget) for the weeks leading up to the concert.

To demonstrate our loyalty, my best friend Sydni and I purchased the VIP tickets for $30 each, which is no piece of chump change to two undergraduate students- apparently VIP tickets to see some of our favorite rappers are more valuable than groceries. The VIP tickets were supposed to grant us access to the VIP booths in the back of the club, as well as a meet and greet with the artists after the show. Being the concert enthusiasts that we are, we knew that as “cool” and “posh” the VIP section sounds, the real action happens in the front, so we made ourselves extremely visible directly in front of the stage. The extra attention we received being two women in the front wound up being a gift and a curse: it was wonderful for the MCs to see how much we enjoyed their music, but nearly every time a performer uttered a line about women or sex, they looked directly at us (at certain points in time the eye contact was too much to bear).

Since this isn’t a concert review, I won’t elaborate on the performances here, but I will say that they all did a great job. Big K.R.I.T. certainly knew how to keep the audience hype, and Curren$y’s “hopscotch-esque” dance moves were enough to make us forget that we had been standing for nearly 3 hours straight.

Throughout the night, Sydni and I had been asking employees of the venue when and where the meet and greet would take place. No one could answer us. But to two strong-willed individuals such as us, we found this answer to be unacceptable. After the show, I managed to catch the attention of Big K.R.I.T., who like those prior, also had no idea what we were talking about. He did, however, provide us with his cell phone number and told us to contact him later.Refusing to give up so easily (I paid $10 extra dollars on VIP tickets that could have easily been spent on two boxes of Honey Bunches of Oats cereal, I was GETTING my money’s worth), I flagged down Mousa, Curren$y’s manager, who also informed us that he knew nothing of a meet and greet, but told us that “we could come on back and meet him.”

Pause for a moment. Now I’ve met plenty of celebrities in my day, much of whom are more famous than Curren$y (John Legend, Barack Obama, Queen Latifah, the list goes on), but they have all been in  very structured settings with security everywhere. I’ve been a fan of Curren$y’s since his Young Money days, circa 2006. My hopes of meeting him had been built up, crushed and are now being fortified once again. And now thanks to my inquistive/journalistic nature, the first time I’m seeing him in concert is also the same night I’m meeting him? The only thing I running through my mind was:  Omg. This.is.freaking.awesome.

Me and Mr. "Audio Dope" himself aka Curren$y.

Curren$y was genuinely friendly and incredibly hospitable. He hugged us and gave me a (fairly wet) kiss on the cheek, and stated that he saw us “chillin’ in the crowd,” and also went on to say that it’s rare for them to “have pretty girls in the audience.” Not only is Curren$y a dope MC, but he’s mastered the art of flattery as well.

We then called Big K.R.I.T., who is also quite the southern gentleman (he hails from Mississippi, Curren$y is from New Orleans). Since we are fans and not groupies, we decided against hanging out with him at his hotel, and instead, decided to take him and his hype/wingman, Sant, to a 24-hour diner on campus.

Our time spent with K.R.I.T. and Sant was absolutely priceless. They are just as goofy as we are (K.R.I.T. could not stop making fun of our odd looking chicken tenders, which he continuously referred to as  “fish-stick chicken tenders”), but the silly moments did not impede upon the serious conversations we able to have as well. Although I played it cool, there was no way I could resist the urge to tell K.R.I.T. how much his single, “Children of the World,” changed my (and Sydni’s) perspective on new hip-hop. “Children of the World” is truly a breath of fresh air- in a culture when materialism runs rampant; it is inspiring to hear young MCs like K.R.I.T. speak about real-life issues within society. I believe the inspiration was mutual, as K.R.I.T. listened intently as Sydni and I relayed to him how much we love his music- as well as our well-formed opinions on some of his more questionable lyrics concerning women and sex. Jokes and discussions about the music industry soon came to follow.K.R.I.T. said that he hoped that our meal together made up for the money that we lost in the VIP scam,  and I don’t think he’ll ever understand the half. This man is a significant part of the future of hip-hop, yet he’s still grounded enough to enjoy some incredibly mediocre food with a couple of fans.

Big Krit & I. Doesn't the Pepsi ad in the background look like one fresh out of the movies?

Meeting Curren$y was freaking awesome, meeting and hanging out with Big K.R.I.T and Sant was absolutely in.freaking.sane. Now I ask you: what are some of your craziest concert/celebrity experiences? Did you put in work like Sydni and I, or was it just by chance? Don’t be shy!

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