Schoolboy Q - Blank Face LP: Aside from the South, Southern California and Los Angeles seems to have established itself as a strong presence in the rap game, and has seen a resurgence of that classic west gangsta rap (peep Still Brazy, Prima Donna, etc.)
In many ways, Blank Face embodies that— a West Coast g-funk soul wrapped in dark, abrasive more modern beats. On Blank Face, Q toes the line between the soulful and the thuggish. He’ll sing hooks on “Neva Change”, or spit bars over more boom-bap type beats on “Kno Ya Wrong”, but can still spit in menacing or hard fashion on “Dope Dealer” or “Groovy Tony”. Schoolboy also nods toward other famous so-cal artists, with features from Anderson .Paak, Vince Staples, Miguel, and of course Dogg Pound. Other features include SZA and Jadakiss, and E-40.
What can I say? Bro goes hard. The fact that the entirety over John Muir is testament to that, and of course “That Part” stays a summer 2016 anthem. Dunno what the fuck dis mans was thinking when ok’d “Whateva U Want” tho. Is that just me? JAISON
RIYL: TDE (Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock), Vince Staples
Recommended Tracks: 4, 5, 9, 10, 15
Head Wound City - A New Kind of Violence: There aren’t many things that get me unreasonably excited. All day today, I’ve had a seemingly limitless amount of energy combined with an incredible amount of writer’s block. It’s been tough for me to sit down and write this review, primarily because this record has a way of replacing my blood with jet fuel. Both live and in the studio, Head Wound City have an amazing ability to play with no holds barred. Frankly, it makes me want to destroy things.
The average half-life for a noisegrind band trends at 2 years, if that. Their story is typical of many grind bands: they were spawned out of a drunk phone conversation between highly technically skilled musicians (alumni of The Locust, Holy Molar, The Blood Brothers and surprisingly, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs). They put out their first EP in 2005, which took them a week to record. You can listen to the entire thing in 10 minutes. That’s about an average time for a noisegrind tape (as an aside, the grindcore masterwork that is GridLink’s Longhena lasts about 20 minutes. That’s loooooong). Eventually the project went on hiatus until 2014, when they started touring again, worked on some new songs and put out a new album this year.
Suffice it to say, this record does in 20 minutes what most are unable to do in 40+. It’s an aggressive, rage filled ride into the fire-filled abyss, and there’s not a moment take your ears off of. In some sense, the blistering pace of A New Wave of Violence excuses a bit of a drop in technicality; the other projects that the band members have been in were far more technical than this one. However, I’m not sure that technicality would have been wanted or needed for Head Wound City to get their point across. A New Wave is hard, fast and upfront. Anything excess would simply detract.
I’ve seen the arguments already from grind purists who have complained that the tape they put out 11 years ago was better because it was faster and maxed out the compressor more. Grind purists are somewhat impossible to please, and their comparisons from this record to bands like Judge and other hardcore acts aren’t off the mark. But, I’d argue A New Wave of Violence is far more sonically interesting than their first. The dynamics between soft and loud are incredibly important for hardcore/grind acts, and they distinguish each song and musical idea by emphasizing and de-emphasizing riffs. In my eyes, the great hardcore acts to which I mentally compare HWC (Judge, Ceremony, Jerry’s Kids) have mastered this. They go between loud & soft, between slow & fast and between heavy & heavier.
This focus on alternation is present everywhere within the LP. Even the first few bars of “Old Age Takes Too Long” set the tone for the rest of the album: strong tom hits and choral chants anticipating quickening bursts of screaming and drum fills. Stylistically, “I Wanna Be Your Original Sin” and “Palace of Love and Hate” are the most similar to their previous material: fast riffs and killer instrumentation coupled with impressive vocals. “Born to Burn” and “Scraper” both exist as anthemic tracks: I still find myself stomping the ground in time with them. “Old Age Takes Too Long” and “Head Wound City, USA” are the most defining tracks on this album, as they lend credence to my ranting in the previous paragraph: their focus on dynamics makes those songs the most impactful they can possibly be. The lyricism deserves a mention: it is thematically dark and laced with black humor, which goes especially well with vocalist Jordan Billie’s enunciated high-pitched screaming delivery.
TL;DR This record kills. It ought to occupy the same venerated space within noisegrind/hardcore as Still Nothing Moves You or Bringin' It Down
RIYL: The Blood Brothers, The Locust, Holy Molar, Judge, Ceremony, punching walls, aggression, flailing your arms in the pit
Recommended Tracks: 3, 4, 8
Noname - Telefone: Critics have called her one of the best female rappers in the game, but I don’t want to hear any of that “she’s good for a girl,” shit. Noname, (FKA Noname Gypsy) can hang, and this record is proof. Telefone is a hybrid between r&b and hip-hop, but at times you’d think it was gospel. It’s upbeat and funky, even through some pretty heavy themes.
Like any good soul record, Telefone is a site of struggle, as Noname explores the hardships she’s endured both personally, and in her community. Family values and religion are major undertones throughout the project, and come together in “Bye Bye Baby,” where she tells the story of her abortion. The first verse is from the perspective of the mother, followed by the perspective of the baby, and then concluding with the two in dialogue with one another. I’ve never heard anything like it – if you’re only going to listen to one song off the project, this should be it.
In a lot of ways, this record feels like a long-form eulogy, as Noname reflects on many different experiences with loss. On the opening track, she remembers the passing of Brother Mike, a local legend on Chicago’s South Side (founder of Open Mike Nights, that promote the arts to local high school students). She references the loss of Aaliyah, and other role models that influenced her sound. She details the loss of her unborn child, in “Bye Bye Baby,” and of black lives in Chicago on “Casket Pretty”. As grief is such a major theme, it’s only fitting that that the record ends with, “Shadow Man,” serving as a prayer to the departed, as it repeats, “bless the nightingale; darkness keep you well.”
Telefone embodies what soul music is all about. Noname’s been through some shit, but she hasn’t lost hope. Rather than distancing herself from the struggles of our communities, she uses her platform as a means to start dialogue, leaving us with a project that is timely and significant. ZOE
RIYL: Aaliyah, Rhapsody, Lauryn Hill, Chance the Rapper
Recommended Tracks: 3, 4, 7, 9, 10
Sheer Mag - EPs I, II, III: Sheer Mag’s motley crew has perfected an unperfect sound. They have taken the same emotional undercurrents found in modern pop music and turned them up to a screeching high and ripped out all the fidelity they could. Tina Halladay on vocals sounds like however Prometheus must have when he got chained to a rock whilst crows ate his liver in ancient Greek Mythology, it's not very pretty and that’s because she doesn’t fucking want it to be. Halladay’s vocals paint a pained yet empowering picture of her own life, she is a woman in command, who is not in the business of taking shit from anybody. The rest of her Philadelphia raised rough housers do not fail to impress, the instrumentation draws heavy influence from 70s classic rock and adds a whole mess of grit to it.
This review will span all three of Sheer Mag’s EP releases, their thematic similarities makes it easy to view them all together as if they were 1 full length album. The band tours relentlessly, isn't attached to any label, and all their music can only be found on bandcamp, those are all great things.
Sheer Mag’s music is aggressive punk influenced rock that can be listened to by anyone. The lyricism at times fringes on anthem-like, there are various calls to action against the establishment, capitalism and anything else yuppie. It is music that incites in a very enrapturing way, as grimey and gruff the music comes across it doesn’t push the listener away but draws them closer and closer. Lyrics like "All I do is sit and cry/ Living in the city and I don't know why/ Doing nothing but struggling to get by." on Sit and Cry enforces the same ideas that punk rock has for years but loads these ideas into a freight train that the listener can’t do anything about but hold on as it lurches and crashes forward.
Tina Halladay’s singing carries immense soul in it as well, soul that sounds transmitted through jumper cables directly into the listener's heart. For every politically charged track on these EP’s Halladay also squeezes in her own version of love ballads. Unapologetic and abrasive, tracks like Worth The Tears and Nobody’s Baby serve as platforms for Halladay to dump her bucket of emotions right on top of anyone in range of her piercing vocals. What I find the most enjoyable about the songwriting is how femininely empowering the vocals sound, as a male listener Halladay sounds like a girl who would very quickly tell me to fuck off and be completely justified in doing so. RAMIRO
RIYL: Shaking from side to side
Recommended Tracks: EP I: 4, EP II: 3, EP III: 2, 4
Isiah Rashad - The Sun's Tirade: Full disclosure, I didn't write a review for FYF. I went, I was supposed to and I didn't. Because I'm terrible. But one of my major highlights of FYF was, when watching Kendrick Lamar's set at the end of the first night, hearing Isiah Rashad come on to perform "Free Lunch" off of The Sun's Tirade, which dropped a week later. Isaiah Rashad, who is best known as a member of Top Dawg Entertainment with Kendrick, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock and Ab-Soul, has been kind of M.I.A since dropping his first mixtape Cilvia Demo in 2014, but he's back on this album and is beginning to make his name one to think about when talking about members of the TDE Roster.
Rashad approaches his verses with the same kind of laconic, relaxed flow that has defined a lot of recent underground and West Coast MC's (event though Rashad himself is from Tennessee). But unlike the dark, manic beats that fill the albums of rappers like Vince Staples and Schoolby Q, the beats on The Sun's Tiradeare much more relaxed, sun-kissed and chill. Think "Today Was a Good Day," but in 2016 and for a full hour and that's a pretty solid summation of this project. Although sometimes it's a little too easy to put Rashad in the background on some of these tracks, even when he's not forcefully demanding your attention his lyricism is consistently personal, witty and poetic.
Outside of Rashad, although there aren't a lot of features on this album, several of the guest rappers also deliver stellar appearances. Kendrick Lamar drops an electric verse on "Wat's Wrong", and Syd tha Kid from Odd Future provides some eerie background vocals on "Silkkk da Shocka". I remember seeing Rashad when he came to campus two years ago for Springfest, and while I thought he was okay back then, he's clearly improved significantly as a rapper during the two years he's been gone from us.
Overall, Isaiah Rashad sounds great on this project, but the scary think is it doesn't even sound like he's reached his full potential yet. So I'd recommend givingThe Sun's Tirade a listen, so that way you can say that you got in on the ground floor once Rashad drops something that really changes the game. JACK
RIYL: Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, Aesop Rock
Recommended Tracks: 1, 2, 5, 8
Elysia Crampton - Elysia Crampton Presents: Demon City: Shout out to co-sign for hooking us up with this one. Frequent Naafi and NON collaborator Elysia Crampton is here with all your dystopian club tunes. Plus she brought along all her really cool friends to help with the record: Rabit, Why Be, Chino Amobi, and Lexxi. These guest producers each lend their own voice to the tracks they worked on, so you can differentiate based on that.
The tracks range from minimalist Tunes to maximalist soundscapes. I would recommend putting this somewhere in the middle of your mix, when you’ve been at it for a while and you kinda need to lay of the huge tunes for a minute but don’t want to devolve things into four to the floor. Or when you need something interesting to play from the CD player because you you don’t own Virtual DJ pro and it keeps quitting on your controller every 10 minutes. Put this on, restart Virtual DJ, and now you’ve got 10 more minutes of mix time! CAMERON
RIYL: Rabit, Lotic, Evian Christ, Kamixlo, Ash Koosha, Arca
Recommended tracks: 1, 2