There are few things in life that you can depend on – death and taxes seem to be the agreed upon items in this category. There are others, however. Ignorance and disappointment come to mind. But why be cynical (like this month’s first artist)? There are plenty of other dependable agents that accompany us on our daily grinds. One is good music. Without fail, great music is being created daily. It’s exponentially easier to put out in this digital age and anyone can do it. That’s what makes finding it that much more difficult. There’s so much to filter through. But it’s out there. Every day of every month good music is being created and put out into the universe for your enjoyment. This past April was no exception. I did the dirty work of sifting through the musical releases traveling through space and time and came up with some of the best that I think you’ll happily enjoy as well. In no particular order, these are some of my favorites from the month of April…
YC The Cynic. The Farewell Tape.
If you would have told me a month and a half ago that one of the best releases of the first quarter of 2016 would be a mixtape I would have given you the Batman-slaps-Robin reaction. No. Not when there are so many LP’s slated for release; so much to look forward to. Turns out you would have been right. This has been my go-to theme music since it made it’s way onto the world wide web.
Not familiar with YC The Cynic? All good, because this serves as both a prologue and an epilogue; a primer and a recap anthology. It’s the greeting and the farewell for new fans and what-we’ve-come-to-expect for the rest of us.
Entirely mixed by Charlie Hustle, this collection of features and collabs shares some limelight with the likes of Homeboy Sandman, Cole King, ScienZe, Sene, Rapper Big Pooh, Milo, Soul Khan and more. YC shares bits of info throughout that help create a biographical atmosphere for who the MC is and how he came to be.
The project gets its title from the fact that this will be the final lap from YC as he enters his chrysalis stage only to reemerge later with a new moniker. Be on the lookout for new material from Kemba, the artist formerly known as YC The Cynic. I’m highly and enthusiastically recommending this one. Find out what’s what…
Phoniks and Raashan Ahmad. Above The Clouds.
Whoa, this one slid in from my peripherals. I had no idea this was in the works. Vibe heavy. If you’re wondering what vibration I’m operating on from dawn til dusk, it’s this right here. Very, very, very cool. I can’t say enough about this. Wake up, play this loud, make some waffles for your kids (if you don’t have kids, make extras for yourself) and see where the day takes you – I’m going to go ahead and guarantee a slice of happiness. Excellent features from Awon, ADaD and Slimkid3. Raashan does what he always does, reminding you that he’s one of the coolest brothers with bars in your musical collection. Phoniks outdid himself, giving life to the definition of what you’ve been trying to describe to friends when whey ask what type of music you’re into.
From the Bandcamp site:
The “Above The Clouds” EP is the newest collaborative release from bay area emcee Raashan Ahmad and Portland, ME hip hop producer Phoniks. It’s infectious combination of electric piano loops, filtered basslines and lively drum breaks lay the backbone as Raashan exhibits his natural groove as an emcee masterfully over the project’s 7 cuts. Positive lyricism and jazzy soundscapes invoke memories of artists like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul while featured emcees such as Virginia’s Awon, Chicago’s MC ADaD and Slimkid3 of legendary hip-hop group The Pharcyde each bring their own unique rhyme style to balance the sonic palette. All these factors lead to a jazzed out, feel good project that is both relatable and refreshing, perfect to digest on a sunny afternoon cruise this summer.
Grand Puba. Black From The Future.
You knew I had this one on my radar and was patiently counting down the days for its release, right? Grand Puba! The voice, the flow, the style – dude’s still got it. It’s not a perfect project but it’s pretty damn solid like molecules that barely vibrate. From the title you can probably get a good idea for what the overall theme is. He’s always spoke to the strength and pride of the Black community, so no surprise here for the content and uplifting lyrics. If #Blacklivesmatter needed a soundtrack, this is it. The production deserves as much of the same credit for the greatness on this project as do the lyrics. Lots of bouncy, fun joints, some boom bap and even some Reggae styled flavor for good measure. Only one – maybe two – skippable joints. Otherwise, a fresh breath of thank-you-very-much from one of the greatest to ever do it. So far everything else has been a free release so do yourself a favor and cop this one. It’s like getting three for the price of one.
Mr. Lif. Don’t Look Down.
Last year Lif was on heavy, heavy, heavy rotation around here with his Terra Bella collaborative release. If you missed that, please go back and add it to your hard drive. Anyhow, towards the end of last year there was an announcement from Mello Music Group stating that Mr. Lif was slated to drop a project on that label. Now, unless you’re only tuned into the AM stations, you know that everything they’ve put out has been dope. Which is why this one was so heavily anticipated. And it does not disappoint. Lif raps with ease and always has something to say. He’s a thinking man’s MC.
My only two qualms with this project are 1) it’s short, clocking in at only 10 tracks and 2) I would have rearranged the tracklisting. The first two tracks are nice but don’t set the tone for the rest of the album. I would have started off with the either the fourth or fifth track. So, if you haven’t heard this one yet, start with “Let Go” and make your way from there. Two thumbs up! Yet more quality from the good folks at Mello Music Group.
From the Bandcamp site:
Welcome to “Don’t Look Down,” Mr. Lif’s first solo album in seven years, a chronicle of personal evolution, internal strength, and the ebbs and flows of life. It’s the most introspective and harrowingly personal work from the ex-Def Jux legend—a record borne from successes, failures, and hard-learned lessons.
Aesop Rock. The Impossible Kid.
I’ve been a fan of Aes since the turn of the century. In fact, Labor Days is one of my go ahead records when I’m standing there stumped in front of my collection like what should I play now? With that said, I may seem a bit biased when I say that no one does it quite like Aesop Rock – not with voice, delivery or production. The Impossible Kid can be appreciated for the thick, digital soundscape alone. But if you’re a lyric listener, there’s that too. Dude is just as fresh with the story-telling raps as he is with the abstract wordy-gumbo that he likes to piece together like blackout poetry. This is a fun – yeah, dark at times – album for anyone that gets amped off of the energy of albums. It’s the production that won me over more than anything else on this album and that’s saying a lot since I am such a fan as Aes Rock the rapper. Grab this for yourself and a copy for a close friend…
J Dilla. The Diary.
Let me preface by saying that I was never that impressed with Dilla’s mic skills. Production skills? One of the best, no contest. But everything that I had heard with his vocals seemed like what the homies sounded like cyphering back in college – just fun raps. I loved that Jaylib project…though, not for the lyrics. He’s not terrible, I just can’t really think of him as an MC. But, he is Dilla. So, when news that his shelved project “The Diary” would be getting the vinyl treatment and released on Record Store Day, I was up early and in line for it. And I’m glad I was. This album is very strong and some of the lyrics even impressed me. Kind of makes me wonder what could have been if we could have hooked him up with some life extension. Check below for a short “making of” video and a track off the album featuring Nas. If you don’t have it yet, you can still get it digitally. Do it.
Black Milk & Nat Turner. The Rebellion Sessions.
Isn’t there a rapper named Nat Turner? When I randomly stumbled onto this album my initial reaction was oh, Milk has a collab record with a rapper called Nat Turner. Uh, no. This is so much better than what I was thinking it would be. Black Milk is unquestionably a dope producer. So, I was going to check it out either way. It turns out that Nat Turner is the name of his live funk-jazz-hip hop band (Aaron “Ab” Abernathy on keys, Malik Hunter on bass, and Zebulun “Z” Horton on drums). All instrumentals, quality in excess and funky as hell. Wow! This is the surprise album of the year so far, for me. It’s short but funky – only 10 tracks and clocking in at around 26 minutes. But 26 quality minutes. I would love to catch this live. This is the type of record that I get excited to tell people about. Yo, have you heard Black Milk’s new album with Nat Turner. Get it! Trust me. Tell a friend to tell a friend because it’s that damn good. If you like Jazz or Funk or Hip Hop – not and, or – you’re gonna love this one. I can’t say enough. I’m getting the vinyl, the t-shirt, everything. You should too. Check it out…
Factor has not made a record that I do not love. His list of guests over the course of his catalogue is incredible. Ask your favorite artist to name a favorite artist and I’m sure he’s had them featured on one of his projects. No exception here. 9 features on a 13 track album with a lot of the usual suspects including Myka 9, AWOL ONE and Kirby Dominant. This is a concept album inspired by a city that never was. It’s rare that a producer can pull off the kind of consistency that Factor Chandelier has given us. I remember reading somewhere that his projects were considered “alternative folk hip hop.” I don’t know about that but I do know that his catalogue is full of the type of music that can appeal to a larger audience than anyone else on this month’s list. It’s not just Hip Hop. It’s so much more. And this is a perfect example of what he does, if you’re not yet familiar.
De La Soul. For Your Pain and Suffering.
De La Soul is my all-time favorite group. They’re so good that I could never pick a favorite album by them. It changes daily. So, you can imagine how much I’m anticipating their next studio LP that’s dropping at the end of the summer. To hold us over, they dropped a 4 track “EP” in April. It’s really just 2 songs long but it’s De La so…
All the Phife joints:
I know a lot of us are still broken up over the loss of Phife Dawg. In April we saw the release of a song and video by the Funky Diabetic. We also got some dedications from KRS-ONE, Dres, Chi Ali and Sadat X. I included them here because those tracks were a big part of the direction that music took this month due to the loss of one of the most influential MC’s to bless the mic. Rest in power, Phife.
There it is. The best releases of April. I may have omitted something and if I did please feel free to leave a comment. This is how great music gets spread. Enjoy in heavy doses!