For 2014: D2G

D2G-July-9th-A-Caner-StoryWhen it comes to hip-hop in Chicago, contrary to “popular” belief, there is a rather extensive history of successful artists. Perhaps most of them did not reach a national level in terms of popularity, but on a local level, they provided a soundtrack to many of our lives. I won’t regale you with tales of rapping along with Crucial Conflict, Da Brat or Do or Die, but I will tell you that in my somewhat biased opinion, Chicago hip-hop is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. A part of this new movement is artist/songwriter/hungry MC, D2G.

I first heard D2G on the DC-produced Hard Bars, a 2011 collaborative effort with fellow Chicago hip-hop artist, Vic Spencer. While I knew what to expect from Spencer and to an extent, DC, it was D2G’s performance that not only caught me off guard, but forced me to look at Chicago’s rap and hip-hop scene in an almost completely different way. Far too often rife with gang references and odes to violent acts, Chicago’s rap and hip-hop landscape can appear very watered down to some. And, not to dismiss trap artists like Lil’ Durk, Chief Keef and King Louie, but I always knew that there were artists who more accurately represented the struggle and desire to overcome it, in a less materialistic, self-centered way. Enter, D2G.

In December of 2011, D2G released The Blood Diamond Tape. Sixteen tracks long with features from Spencer, Lili K, Jay Rashard, A.M. and others, it was a very solid project, from start to finish. Evident was the fact that not only could D2G rap, but he actually gave a shit about his craft. Similar to Lil’ Wayne on Tha Carter, you could hear the hunger in D2G’s verses. You simply cannot listen to “Mom’s Prayin’” and tell me that D2G is half-assing it on the track. Period.

After a 2012 that seemingly came and went for just about everyone, whether in the music industry or not, D2G gifted us on his birthday, July 9, 2013, with July 9th: A Cancer Story. Holy shit, what a mixtape. What. A. Mixtape. I reviewed it earlier on this site, and if I were forced to review it again today, my opinion of it would probably be even more glowing and positive.

I listen to an awful lot of hip-hop and it’s not often that I can sit down and listen to a project in its entirety without thinking that the artist is bullshitting me, at some point. It happens; the need to appeal to your fans who are borderline hip-hop purists and those who simply want to hear good music without the requirement of it actually speaking to them in any way, shape or form. Maybe it’s harsh to call addressing the needs of one’s entire fanbase “bullshitting,” but it is frustrating to listen to such code-switching. D2G’s struggles are not mine, and mine are not his. However, to hear the raw effort on J9: ACS made me a believer in D2G. I have faith that D2G can establish himself as one of the premier hip-hop artists in Chicago, for years to come.

I’ve had the opportunity to do a little “Q & A” with D2G, and his answers didn’t seem contrived. They appeared to be thought out, in order to provide me with the insight that many artists seem to not think is very important in how they are viewed not only as artists, but as people. Regardless of what anyone says, we all judge. Most of us do so unfairly, but nevertheless, we all judge. And while I’d love to write that we as fans can easily separate the artist from the person, more times than not, it is incredibly difficult to do so.

In conclusion, I appreciate the music that D2G puts out, and the effort that goes into it. He certainly isn’t the only rap or hip-hop artist in Chicago who gives a damn about their product, but he’s one I rock with the most, arguably. With the momentum he built in 2013, especially after J9: ACS, it wouldn’t be surprising that he uses that to propel himself to another level in 2014. It’s a “GoILL” movement, y’all.

For 2014: Milli Mars

a4061242399_10I’m not sure if everything is really bigger in the state of Texas, but I do know that San Antonio has a hidden gem in hip-hop artist Milli Mars. Thanks to a friend in the Austin area who hipped me to his music, I first learned of Mars in 2011 when I heard his second musical venture YMID, and was essentially blown away. Not that I am one to generalize, but the project didn’t sound very…Texan. Nevertheless, it stayed in rotation. Once I went back to the proverbial lab and listened to his debut, BrainwashedI knew that this was an artist I needed to keep an eye and ear out for.

After dropping only one track in 2012, “Au Revoir,” Mars came back in 2013 with a shorter, but equally dope release, The Toyotomi EP. Only seven tracks long and with support from Gianni Lee and Babylon Cartel, The Toyotomi EP has a much different sound than YMID, as the production, entirely from whizKIDDA (who also produced all of YMID and Brainwashed), at least appears to be a bit more focused. While the listener doesn’t enjoy the diversity heard on YMID, they will enjoy the layers of “Tokyo Noir” and the thumping drums of “Red Alert ’87.” “Hattori Hanzo” is my second-favorite track on the EP, and the bassline is seemingly perfect, although it arguably could have done without the bridges. The combination of drums and almost eerie bassline on the second half of “Battle of So-Chon,” along with the intermittent vocals, make it my favorite on The Toyotomi EP.

I’m sure that Milli Mars has more in store for us in 2014, and I hope he can build off of The Toyotomi EP. Regardless of commercial success, I know he has a buzz in Texas and assumingly, some sects of the south. It’s not enough to support artists in your area; the underground is the underground. Whether or not Mars or his fans consider him to be a part of the underground doesn’t matter. If Mars makes his way to the Midwest or I happen to be on my vagabond shit in the state of Texas, I’ll be sure to check him out if I can. I implore you to do the same. In the meanwhile, check out his music and thank me later.

For 2014: Mary Gold

Mary_Gold_Sex_Hormoned_Druggie-front-largeNudism, sex and drugs. It would be very tempting to confine New Orleans rapper/singer/songwriter/Nephilim (?) Mary Gold to those three things, but that wouldn’t serve her artistic persona a damn bit of justice. Granted, the intoxicating artist did release a project titled, Sex Hormone’d Druggie, but titles are for show, in my opinion.

SHD was easily the most interesting work I listened to in 2013. Whether it’s Gold’s sexy drawl, the winding production, her slurred bars or seemingly constant pining for drugs, sex or fucking liberation, I simply couldn’t stop listening to it.

I first heard Mary Gold on Curren$y and Jet Life’s Red Eye Mixtape, on “Prayer,” featuring Curren$y. “Hopefully, I don’t die/Hopefully, I don’t sink…,” Gold utters over a haunting beat. And while the song caused my heart to skip a few beats, the video was all of that and even more. The 22 year-old is clearly talented, but is so raw that it hurts. One could very well get the sense that she doesn’t want to be refined; that her jagged approach isn’t quite calculated, but certainly embraced. Her lyrics may be described as “creepy” by some, but those are generally folks who want status quo, especially from a female artist.

SHD is very diverse in terms of sound, but one could get lost in the maze that is Mary Gold. “Druggie Girl” is a very uptempo song, with Gold telling listeners, “Turned me onto the ballgame, I’mma hit her” before sounding eerily similar to Macy Gray, singing, “Baby boy, you better have some dough, if you wanna be with me…” A very smooth drug reference is heard on the LA Beatz-produced “Threesome” as it shouldn’t be difficult to figure out what Gold means by “Threesomes in my living room” after she paid ode to “white girl” and “Mary Ann.”

The guitar-heavy “Needy” is a lovers’ anthem of sorts, if those lovers were heavily under the influence, and “Grand Theft” is dangerously close to “mindfuck” territory. I don’t know what Gold meant by “All my niggas look like Jesus/So you know she tryna fuck,” but it doesn’t matter, because it fit Diggable Slim’s production and Mary’s style.

While “Prayer” was my favorite track on SHD (It was on Red Eye Mixtape to serve as an intro to Mary Gold) for a while, it didn’t take long before the Rmur-produced “Coup De Ville” became my go-to song. It’s not even three minutes long, but I didn’t care then, and I still don’t care now. Set over a steady bassline and a saxophone that just won’t fucking quit, Gold takes the listener on a journey through their city. Motherfucker, just ridin’ around…ay.

Not everyone will be a fan of Mary Gold, and even fewer will be a fan of Sex Hormone’d Druggie. But, everything isn’t for everyone. So if you can’t reconcile in your head a southern singer/songwriter/rapper/whatever she wants to be, whenever she wants to be it whose manipulated vocals will do more than their part to scare the life out of you, don’t venture in her direction. I love how fresh her music sounds, no matter how “unconventional” it may be. And I hope that in 2014, she continues to deliver the ether. Mother Mary, oh, mother Mary…

For 2014: Martin $ky

martin-sky-timelessAs a certified music fiend, I’m constantly on the search for good music. New music, preferably. There was once an unfortunate time when I was completely immersed in the genres of rap and hip-hop, but thankfully, I have since grown out of that stage of arrested development. Despite my love for what some perceive to be “unconventional” music, I have not totally deviated from my affinity for rap and hip-hop.

2013 was a good year for me, overall. Musically, however, it was fantastic. I was lucky to hear countless singles, EPs, albums, mixtapes, collaborations, remixes and features. Some were mainstream while most weren’t even in the neighborhood. Whether swapping music with Spo or someone else, hitting a record store to make a purchase, perusing through music on iTunes or going back to the lab and discovering hidden gems, there was almost never a moment when music wasn’t infiltrating my brain.

Perhaps with artists like D2G, Psalm One, Vic Spencer, Vic Mensa, Chance the Rapper, Angel Davenport and the like, Chicago is enjoying a resurgence (again) on the hip-hop scene. One more for your ears: Martin $ky.

$ky released his debut project, TimeLESS, in September of 2013 and holy hell, was it a doozy. Thirteen tracks long, TimeLESS has no features (always a good formula when you can actually rap well) and includes production from P.U.R.P., Knxledge, Mndsgn and $ky, himself.

Martin’s flow is very smooth and the production on each track fits his seemingly mellow style. The almost monotone feel of his bars don’t come off as uninterested. Rather, he seems under control with a sure sense of where he wants to take each word, line, verse and song. His voice rises when need be and he accentuates profanities and certain phrases with purpose, and not just because he can. With no features, it is much easier to get a feel for his version of wordplay and lyrical content, as features can sometimes overshadow an artist’s entire work. Long a believer that all rap and hip-hop artists should have some input on their production, my favorite beats on TimeLESS were worked by $ky, including my favorite song on the project, “Contrast.” In addition to that track, the $ky-produced “LIMIT(LESS)” and “Pearl Gawd” are worthy of instrumental versions.

I was a little late to the party and didn’t download a copy of TimeLESS until roughly a week or so after it was released. However, it has not left the rotation since its induction into the Hall of Music that is my music library. Check Martin $ky’s SoundCloud for all of your non-TimeLESS musical needs and you can download TimeLESS here. 2014 should be an even better year than 2013, music-wise, and $ky’s work will be instrumental in Chicago establishing itself once again as a hotbed for hip-hop artists with something to prove.

“Draginbreff,” Blu, prod. by Knxwledge

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Know me, and easily you should know that one of my favorite hip-hop artists is Cali’s own, Blu. I’m fairly positive that I own everything Blu has dropped, from he and producer Exile’s classic rookie studio release, Below The Heavens, to his more recent work with MED on The Burgundy EP and Nottz on Gods In The Spirit. The “Herfavorite guy” (shoutout to Marty) has been active over the last several months, and just recently, he and LA producer Knxwledge teamed up to gift our ears with “Draginbreff.” This single is part of the larger Classic Drug References Volume One compilation album, which you can buy here. Supposedly, this is an older Blu verse, but I don’t really care…because it’s a Blu verse. Besides the smooth flow, the trumpets on this track basically make it what it is, which is dope as all hell. Check the fly shit below:

Vic Spencer’s ‘Red Button Series’ finale: “Run Roughshod”

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It’s been a while, hasn’t it? A hiatus of a bit over two months was more than long enough, and for whatever reason, I’m ready to get back to occasionally blogging on this page. Yeah. That.

If you’re familiar with Chicago MC Vic Spencer, you were probably hipped to his Red Button Series, which debuted in September. Spencer dropped a new track on each Monday and the first was “The Newport 500,” produced by Marc Moulin and The Jet Age of Tomorrow, featuring Monster Mike on the bars. Aggressively attacking each line, Spencer wanted to keep his fans amped for his November release, The Rapping Bastard, by giving their ears something to consume in the time being. With dope bars, insane production and “Vic Spencer-like” cover art, RBS was not something entirely new, as it has been done before, but admittedly, I don’t think I’ve ever come across an artist who so often put out B-side tracks that could have easily been on his album.

“Run Roughshod” serves as the finale for RBS, and it’s a fitting one. The Barry White loop is dope (guess what song it’s from and win a buffalo nickel!) and Spencer lets it be known to anyone within earshot that he’s done the music thing before, is doing it now, and will continue to do it in the future. Is his tone harsh? Yes, as always, but very few artists can spit with that demeanor and be taken seriously. Spencer is one of them, as I can personally attest that his persona is nowhere near contrived. RBS may be over, but it delivered a few gems, my personal favorite being the Word Mann-featured “Foes.” I know “V-i” has some more dope up his sleeve, and will deliver it when the time is right. Check out his SoundCloud page for the rest of the tunage. For now, Red Button Series, out.

Audio: “Come Home”/”Pity” (B-side), The Foreign Exchange

North Carolina hip-hop artist Phonte and Dutch producer Nicolay are The Foreign Exchange, an electronica/hip-hop/R&B/dopeness duo. Their debut album, Connected, was released in 2004 to critical acclaim and the pair have been killing it ever since. They released 3 studio albums afterwards, including a live studio version. Their latest album, Life In Flying Colors, will be gifted to us September 24 of this year, and “Come Home” is their first single. “Pity” is the B-side track, and it easily could have and should have made the album. Alas, I will more than happily “settle” for only “Come Home” of the two making the final cut. On “Come Home,” Phonte croons in his own way about home, who it can be with and where it can be located. The song is beautifully composed and Phonte seems to have found his medium as an R&B crooner/hip-hop spitter. I don’t want to wait until 9/24, but “Come Home” will certainly hold me over until then.

Mixtape: ‘She Got Game,’ Rapsody (Hosted by DJ Drama)

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Hailing from the state of North Carolina, hip-hop artist Rapsody is small in stature, but her lyrics seem as if they come from the mouth of a figurative giant. With lyrics chock full of conviction as well as production from the incredibly talented The Soul Council in her corner, today Rapsody gifts our ears with her latest project, She Got Game. This tape is hosted by DJ Drama and should only do more to introduce her to those who aren’t–somehow–familiar with her music just yet. Besides the insanely dope cover art and even doper pair of XI’s that Rapsody is rocking, She Got Game includes features from some prominent hip-hop artists such as Common, Phonte, Chance The Rapper and Raekwon. Rapsody hasn’t released a full-length effort since her debut studio album, The Idea of Beautiful, dropped last August, so this was fairly overdue. I’m sure the collab with DJ Drama will prove beneficial, and am excited to hear the latest that Rapsody has to offer. Here’s one of many links to the dopeness:

She Got Game, Rapsody (Hosted by DJ Drama)

Video: “I.R.A.N.,” D2G (Dir. by Trice Aaron)

I reviewed Chicago rapper D2G’s July 9th: A Cancer Story not long ago and am happy to share with you the first set of visuals from the album. “I.R.A.N.” got the treatment, with some directorial help from Trice Aaron. D2G is one of the hardest-working artists around, so don’t be surprised to see more from him on this page in the near future. Check the fly shit:

King Lamar. Chance’s unconventional dopeness. Elli Ingram is 19 and here to stay.

KING HIM.

Last night was pretty monumental for the state of hip-hop, depending on who you ask. Rapper Big Sean took to his Twitter account to release “Control,” a track featuring Californian Kendrick Lamar and NOLA’s own, Jay Electronica. The song didn’t make the final cut of his upcoming album, Hall of Fame, apparently because of sample clearance issues. Big Sean is not exactly the most admired rap artist in the industry, so when I read a few tweets about the song, I didn’t pay it much mind. Shortly after, however, people got wind of, and then heard Kendrick Lamar’s verse. And all hell broke loose, digitally speaking.

Declaring, “I’m Makaveli’s offspring, I’m the king of New York” was what got more than a few in a tizzy. To follow that up, Lamar later spit, “I’m usually homeboys with the same niggas I’m rhymin’ wit’/But this is hip hop and them niggas should know what time it is/And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big KRIT, Wale/Pusha T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake/Big Sean, Jay electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller/I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you niggas/Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas/They don’t wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you niggas…”

Well. Alright. Some have opined that Lamar was out of line to proclaim himself the king of New York, considering he’s from Compton, and from what he told a concert crowd that I was a part of, his roots go as far east of Cali as Chicago. Others have chimed in that all Lamar did was give rap and hip-hop artists in New York motivation to step their game up. I’m somewhat in between. I didn’t necessarily get the purpose of boasting that he’s the king of New York, unless he wanted to ruffle feathers. Considering that the artists he appeared on the track with don’t have any ties to New York (Big Sean is from Cali/Detroit, and Jay from New Orleans, now in London), either, it seems to me like he went out of his way to take shots at the current state of the genre in New York State.

The bigger debate is over whether or not Kendrick was dissing the artists he named. (He previously mentioned Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem and Andre 3000 as the best MCs out right now, along with himself. I won’t even get into the absurdity of mentioning Andre 3K on that short list.) I feel he did, to an extent. Possibly, it could be considered healthy competition; what rap and hip-hop actually started as. Supposedly, you could argue that he was somewhat paying homage to the artists he named. If that’s the case, that’s an underwhelming cast of characters. Regardless of whether you believe he was insulting those artists or not, one thing should be sure…

Kendrick, your verse was pretty good. However, you called out a bunch of “meh” ass rappers and got lionized for it. You had folks on Twitter considering you some sort of all-time great in hip-hop. Somehow, these same folks all developed a severe case of amnesia, because they continued to insinuate that what you did has basically never been done before, or that it’s been so long, people have forgotten. No, it’s not your fault; their reaction. You are culpable for something, though.

If you consider yourself the Alabama of rap, you don’t call out Mississippi State or Vanderbilt football. You don’t declare yourself a Kennedy- or Obama-style politician and then clamor for Dubya to come correct. You’re apparently the king; the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Don’t call out the 95-96 Blazers, who were barely above .500 that season. I appreciate the old-school approach, I really do. But outside of Jay Electronica, you’re easily more talented than the others mentioned. In fact, I would agree that you are indeed one of the best MCs out at the moment. Who gives a shit about NY artists and their egos, to be honest. I couldn’t care less to address their taking offense. But… Mac Miller?! Tyler, The Creator?! MEEK FUCKING MILL?!?!?! Sir, sir

No path to any throne goes through mere peons.

From a 10-day suspension to ‘Acid Rap.’

I first heard Chicago hip-hop artist Chance The Rapper on Vic Spencer’s “National Geographical” single in 2011. If you’re familiar with Spencer, you know his flow can vary, but is mostly grungy. Having never heard Chance rap before, I was taken aback by his cadence, lyrical content, and just overall dopeness of his verse. Throw in that at times he sounded sing-songy on his part, and while he didn’t exactly fit the “norm,” I was intrigued, nonetheless.

Hoping Chance’s dopeness was more trend than blip, he gifted us with 10 Day, his debut mixtape. “Windows,” “U Got Me Fucked Up,” and “Family” immediately got heavy play and are still in rotation to this day. 10 Day, a debut effort essentially centered around an act of misbehavior, struck me as immature, initially. But then I realized that Chance was doing nothing more than telling a story. His story. And he did it in incredible, and quite unique fashion.

While I was certainly pleased with 10 Day, I admit that I didn’t have high hopes for his follow-up project, Acid RapI just simply felt that what he created on 10 Day, he wouldn’t be able to recreate on Acid Rap. I was incredibly glad to be proven wrong, as Acid Rap was not only seen as great by my somewhat high standards, but by many blogs, websites, journalists, and most importantly, rap and hip-hop fans. Where 10 Day seemingly fell short, Acid Rap compensated for it, and then some.

I’m sure Chance’s style irks some. His high-pitched voice can be a bit shrill at times, and sometimes it seems as if he doesn’t know what direction he wants to go in on a song. But it’s that organized chaos that is so alluring. The adlibs are dope. His features are even better. He tackles topics that a good number of artists his age would rather not be in the vicinity of, lyrically and artistically speaking. In an era in which so many hip-hop fans can’t discern who’s who, it is very easy to distinguish Chance The Rapper from the rest of the crowd. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I have a certain bias for his music because we are both native GoILLians, but if you were to remove that tidbit, the kid just puts out dope ass fucking music. Stay starving, Chano.

Stay sober, Ms. Ingram.

I was browsing different music websites online several days ago, when I came across an album cover that immediately caught my attention. After I finally stopped drooling over the cake in the artwork, I decided to find out a little more about the artist. British electronic production duo Chase & Status founded the independent record label, More Than Alot Records (MTA Records) in 2009 and 19 year-old British singer-songwriter was signed in 2013. At the age of 18, she covered Kendrick Lamar’s “Poetic Justice.” This, alone, is what ElliIngramOfficial-590x339turned me into an Elli Ingram fan. It didn’t take long after that for me to find her website and immediately download her first project, the 6-track EP, Sober.

The entire project was produced by Felix Joseph and Rudi Redz, who were also behind her cover of “Poetic Justice.” I instantly fell in love with the title track, 3 minutes and 31 seconds of greatness, glossing over, ironically, how she is not in a sober state. “Mad Love” is remarkable, and Ingram delectably croons to the object of her desires on “Elliot.” The mood becomes much sexier on “High Love,” as Elli sings, “Hit me with another taste/We can go to outer space/Lay me down and rest on Mars/Together we can watch the stars”. The production on this track is strong, but it doesn’t overshadow Ingram’s singing ability. She perfectly dictates the flow of a song that I feel a number of other songstresses would have struggled on. Over the piano-backed “Fun,” Elli showcases her emotional vulnerability, and honestly, this is about as close as she gets to sounding like Adele. Yet, listeners should be able to easily tell that she is her own artist.

It’s entirely possible that Ingram created this entire EP while under the influence. It would certainly make sense. For someone who is all of 19 years of age, Ingram sings with a maturity not found in many artists twice her age. Yet, Ingram doesn’t appear to be tired, or worn down. She is seemingly in control even when it appears that she may have completely lost it. It’s refreshing to hear someone who is genuinely sensitive, and not just trying to appeal to a certain contingent. She ended Sober with her cover of “Poetic Justice,” just to let you know that, even though this was your introduction to her musical stylings, she ain’t your average rookie.

Stay sober, Ms. Ingram.