Posts Tagged ‘hip-hop’

h1

Bone Thugs N Harmony – New Waves

July 1, 2017

Listened to the new Bone Thugs N Harmony album (which is really just a Krayzie and Bizzy collaboration) in entirety and, goodness, it is an embarrassment. It’s not much of a surprise that a new Bone album would disappoint in 2017 – when is the last time any of these guys has dropped a notable project? But still, it’s hard to believe how bad it really is. I heard a number songs that sounded like they were aimed at the EDM crowd and I even heard a song that sounded like it would be at home on a country album. What I didn’t hear was a single track that sounded anything like vintage Bone. This album is SOFT. There’s nothing wrong with artists growing up and some of the messages have heart, but the production is almost universally terrible and most of the hooks are appalling. These guys can still rap just fine, but there isn’t any noteworthy songwriting happening on this album. I can honestly say that I liked one song: “Good Person.” Something about it (I think it’s the hook) just grabs me. The rest of the album is straight up trash bin material.

4/10 (Trash Bin Material – because nothing needs to lower than that)

h1

June Music Preview: Last Post Before WSOP Hiatus

May 29, 2017

I’m flying out to Vegas today, so this will be my last post until late June. Here’s a quick look at what music will be coming out next month.

Music:

Kool G RapReturn Of The Don (2nd) – One of the old school GOATs. Never really dug into his catalog, but his skills are undeniable. One of the first truly elite rappers.

Halseyhopeless fountain kingdom (2nd) – Someone said they were excited to listen to this. I don’t know what it is, but I’ll check it out now.

Katy PerryWitness (9th) – Not exactly my thing, but notable nonetheless.

RancidTroublemaker (9th) – Shrug. I liked them in the mid-90’s but I have to say metal/punk rock is difficult for me to listen to now.

MC EihtWhich Way Iz West (9th) – One of the weaker old school west coast rappers IMO.

NickelbackFeed The Machine (9th) – Again, not my thing, but maybe someone that reads this wants to know they have a new album coming out.

SZACTRL (9th) – Rumor has it the TDE singer will finally be dropping her album on the 9th, but I haven’t seen this made official anywhere. Needless to say, anything associated with Top Dawg Entertainment is a must listen and hopefully we get some new Kendrick, Schoolboy, and Isaiah Rashad features.

Avenue EightFunk Me Up (16th) – No idea who they are, but the album cover and the album title has put it on my radar.

Big BoiBoomiverse (16th) – Andre 3000 might not want to make music, but Outkast’s other half has been plugging away. Big Boi released a couple albums when I wasn’t paying much attention to music, but they were both critically acclaimed. “Kill Jill” is exceptional and I’ve liked everything I have heard from Daddy Fat Sacks the last few years. Also, this is apparently a double album. Mark me down as excited.

LordeMelodrama (16th) – Definitely will check this out after enjoying the early singles.

Gucci ManeDrop Top Wop (23rd) – I’ve been giving basically everything a change, but this should hit my trash bin in record time.

RadioheadOKNOTOK (23rd) – One of the most acclaimed bands of all-time and while I’ve tried to give them a chance, I just don’t get it.

Vince StaplesBig Fish Theory (23rd) – I think at this point, Kendrick Lamar is the only rapper I want to hear an album from more than Vince Staples. His last album, Summertime ’06, was incredible. My expectations are immense.

Calvin HarrisFunk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 (30th) – If “Slide” with Frank Ocean and Migos (already on my Best of 2017 playlist) is what we can expect from this album, mark me down as stoked.

Also, for those of you that have Netflix streaming, here’s some of the more noteworthy additions for June:

Arrow: Season 5 (1st)
Full Metal Jacket (1st)
Rounders (1st)
The Queen (1st)
The Sixth Sense (1st)
Young Frankenstein (1st)
Zodiac (1st)
Dreamworks’ Trolls (7th)
Orange Is The New Black: Season 5 (9th)
Scandal: Season 6 (17th)
Disney’s Moana (20th)
GLOW: Season 1 (23rd)
Gypsy: Season 1 (30th)

h1

DMX

May 8, 2017

After getting in some heated debates on Facebook, it became apparent that I needed to assess the career of DMX next to either support my claim that he’s overrated or discover that maybe I’m wrong and he didn’t fall off as hard as I think he did. 

 It’s interesting to me that so many people can consider DMX one of the greats considering that he’s still active but hasn’t really been relevant since 2001 – that’s over 15 years of making music no one is really listening to! It’s one thing to be talented and overlooked, but considering DMX’s tremendous success in the past one has to assume people stopped listening because he stopped making good music.

I can admit that I have skipped pretty much all of his music since The Great Depression was released in 2001, but it was my contention that if it was any good someone would have recommended it to me. Still, it is unfair of me to make that claim with certainty unless I listened to all of it myself, so I spent the last several weeks going through pretty much the entire discography of DMX in order to assess his place in hip-hop history with all the relevant information, and that includes all the music he’s released since his life has become overcome by drug addiction and frequent arrests.

Legacy: DMX actually grades pretty strong here. After the deaths of Tupac and Biggie, I would argue that X grabbed the torch as hip-hop’s premiere artist from May 1998 up until Eminem took over in November of 1999 on Dr. Dre’s 2001. His first three albums hold up well in 2017 and the fact that a number of his fans act like the last 15 years of his discography never happened almost makes it seem like the golden era of his recording career is all that matters – and if one wants that to be true, it actually can be.  DMX can’t tarnish his legacy no matter how hard he tries to.  All his personal issues are either ignored or forgotten and it really seems as though most people don’t even realize he’s released three bad albums since The Great Depression. B+

Consistency: And here’s where 2003 to 2017 can’t be ignored. Almost everyone would agree that It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot is the best DMX album. From there, I’d argue that each album that follows is progressively worse, all the way up to Undisputed in 2012 where he really had nowhere else to go but back up. Even though he peaked with his debut album, X was very consistent on his first three releases. However, he falls off a cliff after that and never even hints at returning to elite levels of rapping throughout the rest of his career. D

Longevity: Realistically, DMX had a peak that lasted from 1998 to 2001, when he released his first obviously disappointing album. He has sporadically released new music since then, but the general public has paid little notice and he has received no critical acclaim. Even his most dedicated fans can’t make strong arguments in support of his later work. DMX has been a recording artist for 20 years now, which sounds good for longevity,
but he has been irrelevant for more than half of his career now. D

Lyrics: Even at his peak, DMX was not a strong lyricist. On “Fuckin’ Wit’ D” – on what many would consider a classic album – he actually rhymes: “Stuck in a tree, is what you will be/ like a cat, and I’m the dog, at the bottom, looking up, ‘yo, what’s that?'” He rapped those lines when he was at his best. Check out this article that details the vocabularies of a number of hip-hop’s most notable artists. You can click the link and see how the survey is conducted, but I can save you time and tell you this: out of the 85 artists considered, DMX ranks last. DEAD LAST. Like, no one considered has a smaller vocabulary than DMX –  and Too $hort is the only other rapper that is even close. And when you listen to the music, you can see why: if Dr. Seuss was a gangster rapper, he’d sound like DMX. No matter which way you want to look at it – he wasn’t clever, he wasn’t funny, his rhyme structures were simple, and he wasn’t deep or metaphorical – DMX has always been incredibly simple when it comes to lyricism. F

Songwriting: Once upon a time, DMX was a great songwriter. In fact, X is a fantastic example of how different the elements of lyricism and songwriting really are: even though he was rarely saying anything of substance and his actual lyrics were elementary, DMX’s hit-making abilities from 1998 to 1999 were almost unmatched. To be fair, he was getting laced with some stellar production at the start of his career, but he had an uncanny understanding of how to capture a beat’s mood and craft a hook that made his songs memorable. Unfortunately, it seems as though drugs sapped that creative juice some time around the making of The Great Depression and never returned. I have to consider the whole body of work here – and more than half of it is bad – but in his prime DMX was probably an A- in this category. C

Rapping: Rapping was another strength of prime DMX, as he was able turn subpar lyricism into enjoyable and infectious music and that is something that wouldn’t be possible if he wasn’t rapping his ass off. DMX had an unmistakable presence on the mic and seemed to attack every verse with a fury that was rarely present in his contemporaries. But again, as he got involved with drugs and continued to get arrested throughout his career, he lost almost all of his vocal edge and on his later records he sounds like a ghost of his former self. C

Voice: DMX has one of the most distinguishable voices in hip-hop. Back in the late 90s, his verses were unmistakable. Grimy and gruff, with a strong mic presence and his instantly recognizable growling and barking ad-libs, you always knew when it was DMX’s turn to spit. B+

Replay Value: Having revisited his whole catalog over the last few weeks, it’s clear that his first three albums all hold up pretty well. I could put them on shuffle and listen to almost every song. The rest of his albums I could barely listen to once. C-

Features: DMX was a popular featured artist in the late 90s, but has very little memorable guest appearances since the turn of the century. He helps make The Lox’s “Money, Power, & Respect” and Mase’s “24 Hours To Live” true hip-hop classics and he was frequently awarded the coveted last verse on posse cuts. Perhaps the coolest feature I found in all my digging was on Mic Geronimo’s “Time To Build,” a 1995 boom bap rap song that also features Ja Rule and Jay-Z, before any of them blew up, and finds DMX doing a pretty good ONYX impression while probably still trying to find his own identity as an emcee. He has some other songs with Jay-Z and Ja Rule as the supergroup Murder Inc. and they are solid, but I’m not sad that concept never really materialized. B+

Discography:

It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot (1998) – Okay, I’m going to voice an unpopular opinion here, but this album is overrated. Don’t get me wrong… I love it, but it’s just not a real classic and most people I talk to don’t hesitate to give it that status. So how did that happen? I really think it’s because DMX debuted at a time when Puff Daddy, Mase, and No Limit Records were dominating rap music. Puffy and Mase were Charmin soft and, in 1998, the most popular No Limit artists (Master P, Silkk The Shocker) sounded like a parody of gangster rap, so when It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot was released, no popular rap artist was really making hardcore hip-hop. DMX filled that lane and he did it really well. He attacked the mic with passion and gave zero fucks about what he was saying: “and I’m gunnin’ for your spouse/ trying to send that bitch back to her maker/ and if you got a daughter older than 15, I’m a rape her/ take her, on the living room floor right there in front of you/ then ask you seriously – ‘what you wanna do?'” It’s wild that a multi-platinum artist could say something like that on a record. This album came out when no mainstream artist was making this kind of rap music and I think, because of that, people remember this album as being better than it really is. It’s definitely an enjoyable listening experience and really only has one weak track (“Crime Story”) but if you look at a true hip-hop classic – like Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle – you can find a number of songs that are better than every song on It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot and the weaker songs compare favorably with the best songs on this DMX album. Sorry X fans, this is a very good album, but it’s not a hip-hop classic. 7.5/10 (Highly Enjoyable/Essential Listening)

Blood Of My Blood, Flesh Of My Flesh (1998) – This album is actually better than I remember and the fact that DMX released two good albums within seven months of each other is pretty remarkable. While “Slippin'” is the only song I think is truly great, X once again puts together an album with only one weak track, the ill-advised Marilyn Manson collaboration on “The Omen.” This album is a master class in crafting memorable hooks, as DMX takes multiple mediocre songs and makes them enjoyable with hooks you can’t help but repeat in your head. 6/10 (Recommended)

…And Then There Was X (1999) – Another album that was better than I remembered it being. I thought the noticeable slip started with this release, but this is actually pretty solid. “One More Road To Cross” and “What These Bitches Want” are excellent songs, “Angel” is very good, and most of the album is enjoyable. …And Then There Was X does contain one of DMX’s most memorable hit songs in “Party Up (Up In Here)” which, while not one of my favorites, is outrageously infectious. “Good Girls, Bad Guys” is the only song I hated, which means that DMX only has three truly weak songs on his first three albums. I think the highlights on this album are better than Blood Of My Blood… but overall this album is just a tad bit weaker. 6/10 (Recommended)

The Great Depression (2001) – And here’s where things really start to go bad. Of the 17 songs on this album (skits excluded, bonus songs included), I genuinely like four of them: “A Minute For Your Son,” “School Street,” “Trina Moe,” and “Who We Be.” The way this album is sequenced makes it sound even worse: the first three songs are good, the last song is good, and everything in between is mediocre. Actually, as I listen to it again, “We Right Here” is a good song too. I’d wager that if one made a greatest hits playlist for DMX, it would include zero songs from The Great Depression. In addition, DMX has nearly twice as many weak songs on this album (5, by my count) as he did on his first three albums combined. 4/10 (Lackluster)

Grand Champ (2003) – DMX had a chance to redeem himself here after disappointing on his last album and things start off promising enough, but this album’s sequencing mirrors that of The Great Depression as the best songs are the first few songs – and it goes downhill from there, although “The Rain” is a later track that is pretty good. “Where The Hood At” is a true banger, but the vast majority of this album is totally forgettable. To give an idea of how weak this album is, fire up “My Life” on iTunes or YouTube and realize it’s one of the best songs on here. 4/10 (Lackluster)

Year Of The Dog… Again (2006) – There were two songs on this album that I kind of liked: “Blown Away” and “Goodbye.” The rest of the album ranges from forgettable to pure torture. I really struggled to listen to every song on this album because it was so bad. If his previous two albums were disappointing but showed hints of his former stardom, this is the album that really puts the nail in the coffin of his career – he had nothing left. 3/10 (Crap)

Mixtape (2010) – I have to be honest here, after listening to two disappointing albums and an undeniably bad one, I didn’t have the heart to listen to an unofficial DMX release well into his demise. I skipped this and I’ve literally never heard one person even mention it, so I can’t imagine it’s worth listening to.

The Weigh In EP (2012) – See above.

Undisputed (2012) – I did give this a full listen and I have to say it’s better than Year Of The Dog, but X still sounds like a ghost of his former self. Considering everything DMX was going through in his personal life, it’s actually pretty remarkable that he even put out another album. He sort of touches on his issues on “Slippin Again,” but DMX was never a great lyricist and he has trouble conveying his feelings here. He keeps saying “I wish you knew” in reference to what his life is like, but even after writing a song about it, we still don’t know much. To some degree, DMX sounds reinvigorated on this album in comparison to his previous few releases, but it’s another forgettable effort from a man who needs to be in a rehabilitation center more than he needs to be in a studio. 4.5/10 (Lackluster/Decent)

Classic Albums: 0
Peak: 1998-1999
Current Status: Barely alive. He was actually found without a pulse and not breathing in February of 2016 from what seemed to be a drug overdose. I’ve read that he has cancelled shows in 2017 because of a “medical emergency.” X and Swizz Beatz have posted on social media about new DMX music coming in 2017 and it is rumored to feature Dr. Dre and Kanye West. While it would be cool for DMX to release something good, it seems unlikely at this point in his career and I’m honestly much more interested in seeing him get healthy than I am in hearing new music.
All-Time Status: Outside my Top 50.

h1

The Notorious B.I.G.

April 20, 2017

I’m going to start a new section on my blog that profiles notable hip-hop artists and grades them in all the important categories in an attempt to a) break down their resumes, b) highlight their strengths and weaknesses, and c) figure out where they stand on the all-time list. Initially I was going to make a post that counted down my top ten rappers of all-time, but I think this route is more realistic and encompassing – I can highlight one emcee at a time and probably try to make one post every two weeks or so, plus I can post about rappers that aren’t necessarily candidates for my Top 10. This will be different from my fluid 2016 Rapper Rankings, which is a breakdown of the current hip-hop scene only.

I decided to start with The Notorious B.I.G. because I could digest his entire catalog in a short time and he’s largely considered one of the best rappers to ever do it. Since this is my first post of this nature, I will explain each category I am using to evaluate hip-hop artists before grading Biggie in that particular element.

Legacy: How much of an impact did the artist have on hip-hop? What kind of imprint have they left on rap music? Where do they land among the all-time greats? Will they be remembered 20 years from now? Biggie obviously checks all the boxes here. Christopher Wallace died on March 9th, 1997 and released two studio albums during his career, both of which are largely considered hip-hop classics. Even though his peak was cut tragically short, Biggie is almost universally considered an all-time great and has been revered and referenced throughout hip-hop for the past 20+ years. A+

Consistency: Simply, how consistent was this emcee throughout their career? Did they continually put out high quality albums or were there some bumps along the road? In Biggie’s case, he died young, early in his career (he was 24!), and we’ll never know if he was already peaking or if he would have enjoyed the long career some his notable peers (Nas, Jay-Z) have. Unfortunately, B.I.G. only released two albums, but they are both fantastic and he never disappointed. A+

Longevity: How long have they been making music? How long was their peak? How long have they been relevant? As previously noted, Biggie died young, so we’ll never know what he could have done, but from 1994 to 1997 he was unquestionably one of the premiere emcees in the game. R.I.P.

Lyrics: How strong was their pen game? We are talking about BARS only here. This category encompasses storytelling, cohesion, similes, metaphors, punchlines, cleverness, humor, bragging, battling, belittling, rhyme schemes, etc. Basically, how well could they write? Biggie wasn’t the most complex lyricist; in fact his writing style was actually pretty simple. However, his storytelling ability is legendary and he grades strong in the humor, bragging, and cleverness departments. B+

Songwriting: Not to be confused with lyrical ability, songwriting is something different… something that makes a hip-hop artist more of a complete package. I’m talking about their ability to craft good songs. Just because you can write good verses, doesn’t mean you can make good songs… or albums. This category includes which beats they decide to rap to; how well they write and execute hooks, choruses, and bridges; can they make catchy tunes? There is definitely a lyrical element to songwriting, but making good music is the focus here. Biggie was obviously a master songwriter – to this day, “Big Poppa,” “Juicy,” and “Hypnotize” are some of the most memorable hip-hop songs ever created. Even some of his lesser songs like “Nasty Boy” and “Playa Hater” are enjoyable because of B.I.G.’s ability to make catchy music. Biggie was able to switch gears as well as any rapper ever has been, fully capable of making completely grimy hip-hop and radio-friendly megahits. A+

Rapping: This category refers to spitting only. How well can this rapper rap? How well do they ride the beat? Do they switch up their cadence? Approach various production differently? Biggie Smalls was born to rap. He sounds at home over basically any beat you ever heard him on, making it all sound completely effortless and natural. While I don’t think Biggie was an elite lyricist, his rapping and songwriter abilities more than made up for it, as he made everything sound amazing. A

Voice: To me, this is one of the least important categories when it comes to rap, as anyone that actually makes it in hip-hop usually at least has a capable voice. However, it is worth mentioning as not all voices are created equal. Biggie’s voice is instantly recognizable and perfectly suited for his style. I wouldn’t say his voice is exceptional, but it didn’t need to be. B+

Replay Value: What kind of listening experience does the artist offer? Can you listen to their music repeatedly? Does it hold up 5 years later? 20 years later? I still listen to Biggie’s catalog regularly and it holds up incredibly well – it is truly timeless. A+

Features: How well did the artist do as a guest appearance on someone else’s song? Were they highly sought after? Are they frequently the highlight of someone else’s song? Unfortunately, Biggie’s short career means that his list of guest appearances is also relatively small. Still, whenever featured on a song, Biggie was unquestionably the highlight of the track, demolishing guest verses on Puff Daddy’s “Victory” and “Young G’s,” and Da Brat’s “Da B Side,” and his back-and-forth with Jay-Z on “Brooklyn’s Finest” brings a tear to the eye when you think about what The Commission might have been. B.I.G. also had a number of solid R&B features. B

Discography:

Ready To Die (1994) – One of my all-time favorites – a no-brainer, timeless classic. “Big Poppa,” “Juicy,” and “Everyday Struggle” are some of my favorite rap songs ever created. This is a completely realized record with no weak points, numerous classic songs, and Biggie sounds like a fully mature hip-hop artist at the ripe age of 22 on his debut album. Truly remarkable.
10/10 (Classic)

Life After Death (1997) – There’s a classic album in here somewhere. At 24 tracks, I think there are some notable weak points like “Nasty Boy,” “Playa Hater,” etc., but even Biggie’s filler is somewhat enjoyable. Life After Death is like a super-sized version of Ready To Die, once again weaving effortlessly between grimy street tales and radio-friendly hits. I feel like B.I.G. really stepped up his storytelling skills on this album and his flow on “Hypnotize” is nothing short of amazing.
9.5/10 (Potential Classic/Classic)

Born Again (1997) – Full disclosure: I only listened to the first ten songs when I revisited this album. I just can’t get into it. Biggie’s biggest strengths were his songwriting and rapping abilities and when you take random verses and try to paste it over a random beat to create a song he never intended to make, well, those particular strengths go absent and you get a subpar and forced product like Born Again. Of the 10 tracks I listened to, only “Dead Wrong,” which featured a fantastic verse from Eminem, was truly memorable. Since B.I.G. wasn’t involved with this project, I won’t hold it against him and I won’t rate it either.

Duets – The Final Chapter (2005) – Jesus. When they start titling your posthumous albums like a horror movie franchise, you know your name is being tarnished. I seriously listened to Eminem’s crappy verse on the first song and just turned this off. This was released 8 years after Biggie’s death and is littered with guest appearances and has absolutely no impact on his place in hip-hop history.

Classic Albums: 1.75
Current Status: Deceased, March 9th, 1997
All-Time Status: Top 7

h1

J.Cole, A Tribe Called Quest, BJ The Chicago Kid, The League s3, Fuller House s2

December 14, 2016

J.Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only – I had immense expectations for this album, hoping J.Cole could cement himself as #2 in the current hip-hop chain of command. Instead, Cole opts for a concept album that tells a good, cohesive story, but is an undeniable step down from Forrest Hills Drive in just about every aspect, particularly the production. It’s a very subdued album, with ballads to a love interest and a baby daughter – in fact, half the album is Cole doing more singing than rapping. I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I want from one of my favorite spitters in the game today. “Immortal” is the only true hip-hop banger on the album and “4 Your Eyez Only” does a great job of tying the whole concept together. It’s interesting that Cole attacks Kanye on “False Prophets” just before this album’s release implying that ‘Ye’s The Life Of Pablo is “half ass shit he dropped,” but there are roughly 4-5 songs on Yeezy’s latest that are better than everything on this Cole album. Initial disappointment aside, this album is growing on me and “Foldin Clothes” is the only track I don’t really like. It’s not what I wanted, but I’m appreciating it for what it is: a solid concept album from a rapper that is capable of much more.

6.5/10 (Recommended/Highly Enjoyable)

A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service – 18 years after their last project, ATCQ manages to sound both contemporary and vintage at the same time. It feels like something they could have released in the 90’s but addresses topics of today, particularly Donald Trump’s run to POTUS. “We The People” is a great song with a catchy hook that tells all the minorities of the nation that “you must go.” Obviously Tribe is speaking for Trump here and don’t feel that way themselves (in fact, Q-Tip says “put so much in this muthafucka feel like we shouldn’t leave” on “The Space Program”). It feels dirty singing along uncontrollably with such a terrible message, but that’s how contagious the music is. The core members (Q-Tip, Phife Dog, Jarobi) all give great performances throughout the album, but Busta Rhymes might be the MVP as he seamlessly hops in and out on “Dis Generation” and then absolutely demolishes the best beat on the album on “Mobius.” Tribe also gets a short but fantastic feature from Kendrick Lamar on “Conrad Tokyo.” The big feature that didn’t work for me as well was Andre 3000 on “Kids.” I just can’t get into the production on that song. In all, it’s totally absurd that A Tribe Called Quest is putting out an album as good as this in 2016. It’s a project that is enjoyable all the way through, fits in perfectly with the rest of their discography, and is one of the best rap albums of the year.

8/10 (Essential Listening)

BJ The Chicago Kid – In My Mind – I finally listened to this from front to back a week or two ago and there is virtually nothing to complain about. I can’t remember a song I didn’t like and there are numerous tracks that have made my Best Of 2016 playlist, including “Shine,” “The New Cupid,” and “Church” – and really, I could just keep adding on. “Shine” has become the mantra for my marriage with its theme of a couple surviving through thick and thin and shining together. Having bottomed out multiple times in my life, the past few years have really been spectacular and things only keep getting better, so BJ’s lyrics of “when I shine, you shine with me baby” really resonate with me. It’s incredibly satisfying to succeed as a team with my wife and this song expresses those feelings perfectly. This album is very good from front to back and is probably my favorite R&B album of the year.

7.5/10 (Highly Enjoyable/Essential Listening)

“Fuller House” s2 – This show is definitely a guilty pleasure that is mostly enjoyable for nostalgic purposes. The writing and acting are frequently cheesy. While it doesn’t seem terrible for DJ to say her catchphrase of “Oh Mylanta,” I cringe every time I hear Stephanie say “how rude,” it just feels so horribly forced. I can only imagine what it would be like if they actually got the Olsen twins to come back. Would they really have a fully grown Michelle saying things like “you got it dude” and “no way Jose?” Even though Kimmy Gibbler’s ex-husband Fernando can feel like a rip-off of Fez from “That 70’s Show” a lot of the time and her brother Jimmy looks and kind of acts like an Ashton Kutcher clone, I have to admit both characters are a good addition to the second season, with the former taking on a much bigger role this time around as he moves into the house. These two characters provided most of my laughs in the second season. There are a lot of call backs to the previous series that didn’t resonate with me because I didn’t remember them, but I imagine they are fun for serious fans of “Full House.” Danny Tanner’s mid-life crisis that found him living with reckless abandon and doing that whole old white person using hip-hop slang like no one in the world does routine was absolutely terrible. I really don’t get that. It’s never funny and it’s actually quite insulting. Kimmy Gibbler is probably the series highlight. Her character is usually the funniest and finds herself in the best situations – like co-hosting the morning show with Danny Tanner. I couldn’t help but note the Lance Bass reference in the high school reunion episode, saying DJ was voted most likely to marry Lance Bass or something of that nature. The girls graduated in 1995, but N’Sync didn’t become popular until 1998. Just a weird thing that the entire cast and crew overlooked but immediately gave me pause. I’m not disappointed with “Fuller House” because I know exactly what to expect and I’m watching it anyway. It’s a cheesy sitcom that is moderately enjoyable and offers some decent chuckles. I can’t imagine fans of the old series wouldn’t like it.

2.5/5 (Not Recommended/Decent)

“The League” s3 – I thought this season started off terribly and I hope the show isn’t jumping the shark already with four more seasons to go. I honestly found it appalling that the group would conspire behind Ruxin’s back and neg on his #1 overall pick. First off, that is extremely foul play. Secondly, it’s not like a #1 pick even comes close to guaranteeing a league title. The season did start to pick up with the hilarious guest spots from Keegan-Michael Key in “Carmenjello” and Jeff Goldblum as Ruxin’s dad and Sarah Silverman as Andre’s sister in “Thanksgiving.” I thought Taco had some pretty funny moments in the first season, but he’s easily becoming my least favorite character on the show. Andre remains my favorite. Hopefully season four is a step forward because another step back and I might not be able to make it through this whole series.

3/5 (Decent/Good Stuff)

h1

Contemporary Rapper Rankings

December 13, 2016

I saw someone post a spreadsheet of their rapper rankings today and it, of course, sparked a debate and made me think about how I would do it myself. This list is concerning contemporary rappers only – sorry, no deceased legends here. In order to qualify, an artist must have released at least one project between 2012 and 2016.

Tier One – The King: Kendrick Lamar

Comments: No one is touching Kendrick right now. He’s released two legit classic albums already and Section 80 is nothing but heat also. In all, he’s 5 for 5 and his guest appearances in 2016 have all been flames. All hail King Kunta.

Tier Two A – Next Up: Chance The Rapper, Isaiah Rashad, J.Cole, Joey Bada$$, Lupe Fiasco, ScHoolboy Q, Vince Staples, LE$

Comments: J.Cole had a chance to at least stand in Kendrick’s court, but his latest project comes up short for me. Chance, Rashad, and ScHoolboy Q all released albums that will make my top 10 of 2016 list. Joey Bada$$ and Vince Staples had top 5 albums last year and they both released material I liked in 2016 as well. Lupe has reestablished himself as a beast with a top 10 album last year.

Tier Two B – Relevant GOATs: Eminem, Andre 3000, Black Thought, Common, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Nas, Q-Tip, Scarface

Comments: Common, Kanye, and Q-Tip all released good albums this year and I believe The Roots will be releasing something shortly. Eminem has killed some verses in the past couple years on Yelawolf’s and Dr. Dre’s albums and The Marshall Mathers LP2 was better than you think it was. Apparently he’s working on something new as well and I honestly have no idea what to expect – the bar is kind of low. Jay and Nas qualify with albums in 2012 and 2013, respectively, but have been mostly MIA since 2013. Scarface has had an amazing career that has seen new music released in four different decades now and shows no signs of washing up.

Tier Three – Solid: Big K.R.I.T., Royce da 5’9″, Slug, Big Sean, Brother Ali, Childish Gambino, Cormega, Drake, Fashawn, Freddie Gibbs, The Game, Joe Budden, Killer Mike, Logic, Travis Scott, A$AP Rocky, Bun B, Dave East

Comments: Childish Gambino just released an amazing album, but it’s not a rap album and he has been trending in that direction for a few years now. He’s a solid rapper that has turned into a great musician. I feel like Drake is slightly underrated… by me… and tremendously overrated by the rest of the world. Slug keeps plugging along making enjoyable music, which he’s been doing since 1997 – dude probably has the most underrated hip-hop career of all-time, but I do think the older stuff is better than the new. Cormega is also severely overlooked and released a good album as recently as 2014. Joe Budden and Royce can sound elite at times and they can also be wildly disappointing – Budden released a good album in 2016 and Royce put out a dud. Logic and Freddie Gibbs have potential to climb up a tier, but their last projects didn’t elevate them. Travis Scott has a top 10 album of 2016 and I think I need to revisit Rodeo. I’m not sure how much of a rapper he is though. Brother Ali barely qualifies for these rankings – he released a 7 song EP in 2012 – but he was elite at one point.

Tier Four – Respectable:  Skyzoo, Big Boi, Talib Kweli, Crooked I, Devin The Dude, Elzhi, Phonte, Jay Rock, Joell Ortiz, Mac Miller, Macklemore, Murs, Pusha T, El-P, T.I., Tory Lanez, Wale, Yelawolf, YG, Bambu

Comments: These guys have all put out music I like in the past five years, but none of them are great rappers.  Talib peaked a decade ago and he’s just been above average since then. Crooked I is great at rapping verses, not so great at making songs, although his project with Statik Selektah this year was a good album. Big Boi is a legend that released good music last year, but I’ve never considered him particularly elite. Jay Rock and Wale have some potential to trend up.

Tier Five – Good Start: Bas, Cozz, Dame D.O.L.L.A., Earl Sweatshirt, Kamaiyah, Lil Dicky, Tut, Smoke DZA, Vic Mensa

Comments: I have only heard one project from everyone on this list, but they all have tier two or tier three potential except maybe Kamaiyah. Smoke DZA has multiple projects, but I’ve only listened to his most recent one and it has been very good. Bas and Cozz are both on J.Cole’s team and they are worthy lieutenants that have very good debut albums under their belts. Damian Lillard released an enjoyable rap album, which is something no other professional athlete has ever done to my knowledge. Sorry Shaq. Lil Dicky is hilarious and talented. I liked Kamaiyah’s album but she feels like more of a tier four rapper. Tut put out a great album last year. I like Earl Sweatshirt, but I need to hear more.

Tier Six – Undecided: Action Bronson, Ab-Soul, Danny Brown, Dej Loaf, Kevin Gates, Little Simz, Mick Jenkins, Dom Kennedy

Comments: I think everyone listed here has talent, but I don’t know that I really appreciate it. I’ve had trouble listening to the most recent stuff from Mick Jenkins, Ab-Soul and Danny Brown. I actually kind of liked Dej Loaf’s EP last year, but I’ve heard six total songs from her.

Tier Seven – Meh: Aesop Rock, B.o.B., Boosie Badazz, Future, E-40, Jadakiss, Lil Uzi Vert, Meek Mill, Noname, Rae Sremmurd, Ras Kass, Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, Tyler The Creator, 2 Chainz

Comments: I’ve heard stuff I liked from everyone on this list, but for the most part, I could do without their music. A lot of people think Jadakiss is a G.O.A.T. but he’s never been a good solo artist. Sorry. Snoop isn’t a good rapper anymore and I couldn’t listen to his latest album, but Bush and 7 Days Of Funk were both very good.

Tier Eight – Trash: Everyone Else

Comments: I really don’t want to list all the bad rappers. There’s a lot of them. And I don’t listen to them anyway.

Notable Omissions: Kid Cudi, Gift Of Gab, Black Milk, Blu, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Flatbush Zombies, Warm Brew

Comments: All of these guys have good history and qualify for the list, but I either haven’t heard the material they released in the past five years or I can’t tell them apart – as is the case with Flatbush Zombies and Warm Brew, both of which released excellent projects this year.  Lastly, I cut someone from a list to place them somewhere else and then I forgot who it was, so I should have one glaring omission that one of you should be able to point out!

h1

Stranger Things s1, Atlanta s1, Krampus (2015), Childish Gambino, The Hamilton Mixtape

December 7, 2016

“Stranger Things” s1 – This is the best show that I’ve seen in 2016. It’s a throwback to 1980’s horror/sci-fi that felt like Steven Spielberg’s E.T. meets Stephen King’s It (the novel, not the movie). I was pretty much giddy the whole time I was watching it. The show manages to be incredibly fun while not taking itself too seriously, which makes its supernatural plot easy to swallow. The cast in this thing is phenomenal. I’ll be shocked if Wynona Ryder doesn’t get an Emmy nomination as she does arguably the best work of her career here, and Millie Bobby Brown is a child star revelation that probably deserves one too. David Harbour as the sheriff is also excellent. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of the members of the young cast go on to have solid acting careers – it’s a very well rounded ensemble performance. I honestly have no idea where the writers can go in season two, but I can’t wait to see what they do next. You are really doing yourself a disservice if you haven’t seen this yet. 5/5 (Must Watch)

“The League” s2 – I took a very long break between the first half of this season and the second half, so I’ll just comment on the latter, which gave us classic stuff like “Vinegar Strokes” and Andre’s appearance as an expert witness. Andre’s testimony is the hardest I’ve laughed watching T.V. in a long time. I like Jenny’s inclusion into The League as she fits in very well with the guys and her success is an added bonus in emasculating Kevin. I’m not sure if I like Ruxin or not – Nick Kroll is funny sometimes, but usually I just find him over-the-top and annoying. 3.5/5 (Decent/Good Stuff)

“Atlanta” s1 – Donald Glover is a genius. Seriously, I have tremendous respect for his work ethic. He’s as talented an entertainer as anyone in the industry right now. This show is his creation as he stars in it, as well as directs and writes a number of episodes. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from “Atlanta” and it still shocked me. This show is completely bonkers. On one hand, it’s a realistic look at what it’s like to be a young black man on the verge of stardom in the rap game (or in his entourage) and on the other hand, it’s whatever it wants to be. Seriously, anything goes. Glover is solid as Earn, Paperboi’s manager and cousin, and Lakeith Stanfield’s (Snoop in Straight Outta Compton) Darius is definitely a series highlight. I highly recommend this unique show; it’s smart and funny, but I advise keeping an open mind while watching it and multiple viewings are recommended.
4.5/5 (Good Stuff/Must See)

Krampus (2015) – This is a fun horror/comedy that I overlooked until I walked through the maze at Universal Studio’s Hollywood Horror Nights and thought “okay, I need to watch that.” I’m not sure Krampus is going to join the elite horror movie monsters, but there is definite franchise potential here and the Christmas setting makes for a unique premise that really hasn’t been done well since Gremlins. A lot of times, horror movies will introduce a bunch of one dimensional and unlikable people (and one heroine) before systematically killing them off, but Krampus gives us more of the Home Alone/Christmas Vacation lovably flawed crowd, so when they start disappearing, it actually stings a little – and the kids aren’t off limits here. The movie has some solid visual effects and the makeup for Krampus himself is A+ stuff. This is a definite recommendation for fans of the horror genre – although it’s on the lighter side of scary – and an all around fun film. Sequels are inevitable. 6/10 (Recommended)

The Hamilton Mixtape – This is a solid supplement to the fantastic cast recordings of the Broadway phenomenon. There is great original music from The Roots, Common, Nas, and the mastermind himself, Lin-Manuel Miranda, plus standout covers by Usher and Alicia Keys. I was kind of disappointed with the Chance The Rapper and Francis and the Lights rendition of “Theodosia,” which I was really looking forward to, and there are a number of songs by lesser known artists that are definitely the weaker moments on the mixtape. Queen Latifah and Ashanti and Ja Rule make some nice throwback appearances. Overall, a good album with great moments.
6.5/10 (Recommended/Highly Enjoyable)

Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love” – More Donald Glover brilliance. Yeah, the kid makes good music too. This album sees Glover’s transition from solid rapper into great musician fully realized – it’s not a rap album, it’s a tribute/cautionary tale to his baby boy disguised as a convincing Prince impression. “Redbone” is a candidate for my favorite song of the year, featuring possibly the best production I’ve heard in 2016 and a solid performance by Gambino that is greatly enhanced by vocal effects – it’s song-making perfection. “Zombies,” “Baby Boy,” and “Terrified” are other highlights, and truly, the more I listen to the album, the more it is growing on me. 7.5/10 (Highly Enjoyable/Essential Listening)