4 posts categorized "BeatTips Music Reviews"

November 18, 2014

Extended Shelf-Life: Bronze Nazareth's 'School for the Blindman' — One of the Best Rap Albums in Decades

Soulfully Hard and Authentic, Loaded with Dope Beats and Edgy Rhymes, School for the Blindman Confirms that Bronze Nazareth and The Wisemen are in League of their Own

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)


BeatTips Rating: 5/5

"Roll dice in old piss" —Bronze Nazareth

We often like and celebrate an album because of its power to take us somewhere. The vivid images that it calls up; the memories that it inspires; the emotions that it makes us feel — these are the things that, when present and prominent on an album, take us somewhere.


Hit play on Bronze Nazareth’s enigmatic album School for the Blindman (iHipHop Distribution), and you’re instantly transported to a music world that’s oblivious —thankfully so — to the oversaturated, gutless or otherwise cookie-cutter abstracts that make up most of what we know as mainstream rap music today. But School for the Blindman doesn’t just stand out as an obvious counterpunch to the jingle-filled, 808-dominated rap, it distinguishes itself from all other recent underground offerings as well. In fact, I find School for the Blindman to be one of the best hip hop/rap albums in decades.


Prior to School for the Blindman, the only other hip hop/rap albums that I found that I could listen to straight through with repeat extended plays were lllmatic (Nas) and Supreme Clientele (Ghostface Killah). And like those two classic albums, School for the Blindman also stands out because of it’s stellar, ear-catching production (soul samples & ill drums galore) and concrete rhymes. No beat on School for the Blindman is a mail-in job or simple drum program re-run. Instead, every beat contorts with its own structure and direction.


Truly a “beatmaker’s” beatmaker, Bronze’s production (he produced all but three tracks on the album) illustrates organic drums, well-conceived chops and arrangements, uniquely filtered phrases, and a powerful injection of feeling. As per Bronze’s style and sound, the art of sampling shapes the entire framework of School for the Blindman. And as with his previous efforts, all of the frequencies sampled and flipped make up amazingly hypnotic sonic textures that hold you at attention and demand frequent replays. (Bronze employs a smooth but defiant sampling style that priorities feel over needless complexity; thus the main reason that his beats draw you in.)



As far as the rhymes go, here, too Bronze shines. On “Fresh from the Morgue,” which features one of the dopest sounding hooks ever and a verse from The RZA, Bronze drops this quotable, “I’m so ill bring in the nurses to see him/my bitch purse is bulimic.” This kind of smart, layered slant rhyme is a staple throughout School for the Blindman. But then there’s the deeply personal “The Letter,” where Bronze’s knack for double (even triple) entendre reaches new stylistic and emotional levels: “I was the worst friend, couldn’t see poison through veins/losing you in vain from making tracks/I shoulda stopped the train.” The verse on “The Letter” and other songs on School for the Blindman cement Bronze’s place among the best producer/rappers of all time.


Although this is a Bronze solo joint, as with vintage Wu-Tang — the Wiseman’s direct influence — The Wisemen show up in force. Salute, Phillie, Kevlaar 7, and June Megaladon are present, each adding their distinct voice and flow to the tracks that they appear on. Each member of the Wisemen carries an aggressive but subdued demeanor. To be certain, they represent a street, workman-like ethos. I’m sure that the labor realities (or lack their of) in Detroit has something to do with this. Indeed, The Wisemen offer up an everyday-man familiarity. Plus, for those who have actually spent time in the streets because of the hard draw of life, and not because of a prospective rap career, The Wisemen are especially refreshing. They paint the scenes of daily life in the hood — the highs, lows, and ironies — with confident strokes of well-stated details.


In addition to Wisemen features, School for the Blindman also gets a literal Wu-Tang assist, as Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, and The RZA all appear. RZA shows up on four joints (3 of them bonus cuts) and is in top form. Other features include Rain The Quiet Storm, L.A.D. aka La The Darkman, and Killah Priest.


Another paramount feature of School for the Blindman is the level of authenticity that it exudes. The feel of the whole album is as hard as it is emotional, as street gutter as it is fine art. Each song brims with confidence and emerges as an exact, creative and sure-guided piece of art. This is because Bronze is deeply conscious musically and politically (peep the Martin and Malcolm messages), and as such, he’s concerned with recapturing feeling, a specific feeling, one from a soulful and more noble time in Black American history.


With this focus as a guide, there are no bells and whistles on School for the Blindman, only rough-stock beats and rhyme darts! Which means that the level of confidence — even, decadence — on School for the Blindman is the kind of natural confidence that only comes from a certainty in one’s self and chosen journey. And that’s just it: Right now, Bronze and the Wisemen collective are in a rap league all of their own. They draw energy from the essence of their squad; they don’t come off as an overworked caricature of guys from the street. Instead, they showcase an honest handle on their station in life and demonstrate that they’re an authentic and earnest crew, not a fastened together boy band masquerading as a rap clique.


When I reviewed The Wisemen’s Children of a Lesser God more than a year ago, I asked, rhetorically, if The Wisemen match or surpass the Wu-Tang Clan? My answer was no, of course. But I submitted then that The Wisemen’s aim and effort to stay true to their pedigree and influences is what allowed (allows) them to create something authentically theirs — something that would stand for others to attempt to emulate, match, or surpass. This, I continued, was the continuum promise of a dope pedigree. But after listening to School for the Blindman, I no longer think that the question of whether The Wisemen match or surpass the Wu-Tang Clan is applicable. Direct Wu-Tang influences aside, Bronze and The Wiseman have successfully navigated a course that now has them in a league all of their own. In today’s rap scene, there are few collectives (if any) that are comparable in style, sound, weight, and consistency to The Wisemen.


BeatTips Rating Breakdown

Favorite Joints

“The Letter”
One of the most moving songs that I’ve heard, any genre! This hard-hitting “letter” to a dead friend, taken to soon by the jaws of drug addiction, is absolutely chilling…and beautiful. Bronze is himself on every track for sure, but on “The Letter,” he travels deeper into his heart and taps into a pain that’s made up of a triple cocktail of loss, confusion, and guilt. The beat (which, by the way gives a clinic on how to pitch up a sample and loop it) holds this sort of smooth rumble to it. So effective is the filtering, the chops, and mix on this joint, it sounds as if the vocal “oooing” — that rides through the better part of the track — is separate and on top of everything. And the drums, which feature a highly tucked, almost muffled kick and a punching snare that features a chorus on every 4th hit, are simply masterful. With three primary sampling elements (as far as I can tell, there could be more) that dissolve into each other, this drum-work scheme sounds even more impressive.

Bronze Nazareth - "The Letter"

Bronze Nazareth - "King of Queens"


“Fresh From The Morgue” ft. The RZA (This joint is multidimensional dope! Soon as the hook drops, you’re rocking along to the song.)
“King of Queens” (Prod. Ernesto LTD)
“4th Down” ft. Salute, Kevlaar 7, Phillie (Pay attention to the sample flip on this joint!)
“Gomorrah” ft. Killah Priest (Prod. by Kevlaar 7)
“Worship” ft. Salute, Phillie, Kevlaar 7 of Wisemen
“The Records We Used to Play”
“Jesus Feet”

Bronze Nazareth feat. Killah Priest - "Gomorrah" (Prod. by Kevlar 7)

Bronze Nazareth feat. RZA - “Fresh From The Morgue”


Sureshot Singles

“4th Down” ft. Salute, Kevlaar 7, Phillie
“Carpet Burns” (bonus song)
“Gomorrah” ft. Killah Priest (Prod. by Kevlaar 7)
Worship Ft. Salute, Phillie, Kevlaar 7 of Wisemen
“King of Queens” (Prod. Ernesto LTD)

Bronze Nazarath feat. Salute, Phillie, and Kevlar 7 of Wisemen - "Worship"

Sleeper Cuts

There are no sleeper cuts on here; all of them will catch your attention on the first listen.


Gripes and Weak Moments

NONE


Final Analysis

What ultimately makes School for the Blindman sore is its very nature — a subdued, soulful — beat send-up with authentic rap voices. You get the feeling that Bronze knew what he wanted this album to be — a “school” where the echoes and retransformations of soul music helps to guide the thoughts and imagery of each listener. Thus, School for the Blindman delivers an effect that is more like a savvy, entertaining documentary, than a CGI-laden action feature film. So much authentic nuance abounds on this album that you almost miss the polish and forget that Shool for the Blindman is, afterall, a feature and not a documentary film, if we stick with the film metaphore.


I’ve always been of the opinion that an album should be examined (critiqued/reviewed) on what it aims to do, what it purports to be. By this metric alone, School for the Blindman gets a BeatTips Rating™ of 5. The album is a classic. Still, what makes it superb is not that it excels in what Bronze set out for it to be, but that it goes beyond. School for the Blindman demonstrates a timeless combination of theme and execution through a collection of beats and rhymes that live up to each other. And when the beat and rhyme fit as if they were born together, there’s no tougher combination. This occurs again and again on School for the Blindman.

Afterword

I’m almost puzzled as to why Bronze Nazareth and the whole Wisemen collective do not receive decent, ongoing coverage by rap music publications and even those music blogs that seem to pride themselves on pushing good music to the front, trends be damned. But the Wisemen represent a continuum essence, something held over from the concept of hip hop/rap music as a quality experience that pulls you in with dope beats and rhymes and authentic nuance. The Wisemen do not fit within or defer to a caricature of “pop cool” that prioritizes smedium t-shirts, skinny jeans, fake fun or emo synth-lines. They are not an outfit of over-hyped misfit angst pushing out contrived adolescence over sub-par beats. The Wisemen are blue collar stars, indicative of Detroit, the city they rep. Moreover, they are students and masters of a specific rap aesthetic, an art style and sound that holds meaning to them (and countless others around the world). Subsequently, they’re little concerned with trend-chasing critics who seem more interested in being the tastemakers of only one, often diluted branch of hip hop/rap music.


So the only reason that I’m even slightly puzzled by the lack of coverage that The Wisemen receive is because of what they represent and offer. Listen, hip hop/rap music is an indefinite music form. This means that there is no time — era, nuance, style, theme — in its vast tradition that can’t be summoned up, celebrated, and mastered. But as long as music publications fail to realize this important fact, unfortunately, The Wisemen (and any groups of similar stock and trade) may get overlooked.


Here, I’m reminded of something I learned as a kid, and something I tell my son: To be true to yourself is a blessing and a burden. Fortunately, Bronze Nazareth and The Wisemen have accepted the burden along with the blessing.


---
The BeatTips Manual by Amir Said (Sa'id).
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

November 08, 2010

Statik Selektah and Termanology’s ‘1982’ Is a Classic

Duo Soars with Broadly Complete Album

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

BeatTips Rating: 5/5

The uncompromising creativity of 1982 splashes at you like a golden razor, slicing away your angst for what mostly purports to be hip hop/rap music these days. In fact, not sense Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele, or Gang Starr’s Moment of Truth have I heard a more defiant, well-balanced, and self-defining album in hip hop/rap.

There is an aggressive freedom within 1982. This album roams confidently (decisively) where it wants. Indeed, 1982 is not an overtly ambitious medley of varying tunes for everybody. On the contrary, 1982 is clearly for somebody. It’s for me. And if you like boots-in-the-speaker hip hop/rap music along with an occasional "smooth operator" boom bap selection, then it’s for you. But if you incline towards contrived “emo” tracks or clumsy Southern bounce knock-offs, you’re at the wrong parade. 1982 is a street hop convention, wherein there's a celebration of two of the rawest and coldest fundamentals of the hip hop/rap music tradition: beats and rhymes. It's also a magnificent lesson in musical balance, as the milder cuts on the album enhance the range and depth of an otherwise hardcore LP.

BeatTips Rating Breakdown

Favorite Joints

"Still Waiting"
This is my absolute favorite joint from 1982. A classic song that actually reminds of me of how eloquently Bruce Springstein and Billy Joel accurately deliver the day-to-day "common man" vibe of a working class "joe" with big dreams. Termanology is at his best here, offering up a confessional rhyme jaunt that leaves you cheering for him and Stat to hit it big.

"I'm still waiting for my day/I'm still waiting to par-lay with hell-a loot/I'm still waiting ti' my moms livin' better, too/shit, cuz my life's still raw/I'm twenty-somethin' years old and I'm still poor."—Termanology

As for the beat, Statik Selektah demonstrates his superb ear for soulful samples and his master-touch chopping. What's especially dope is how Stat handles the track overall. His treatment of the primary sample is precise. Rather than cloud it with a schizophrenic drum framework (something a less skilled beatmaker would most likely have done), he anchors it with a steady kick-snare pattern, while beefing up on the cymbals.

"Life Is What You Make It" ft. Saigon and Freeway
A deceptively simple arrangement that draws you into the rhythmic prisms created by the beat and each rhyme flow. I particularly like this joint because of Saigon's work on it. And the beat for "Life Is What You Make It" is currently my favorite from 1982. Using a three-note bass sample, the beat drags and pulls with one of the illest swing qualities I've heard on a beat in recent years.

"Freedom"
With this song, intellect and social scholarship take center stage. I dig songs that teach and uplift without preaching.

"The World Renown"
This joint is proof positive that beats inspire flow, and the iller the beat, the iller the rhyme—well, at least that's how it is when there's a capable lyricist on the beat. Fortunately, Termanology proves to be more than capable here. Term uses "The World Renown," the first cut of the album, to announce that he's entered a new lyrical zone of complexity, flow, and stylistic machismo.

As far as the beat, once again, Statik Selektah shows off master art-craftsmanship. The beat simmers. At the center is a soul-jazz fusion sample that's surgically chopped (one of Stat's best traits), but not over-extended the way many "auto-choppers" of today like to often do. And the drum framework is a silhouette of smoothness. Each individual element is tucked well, with the bongo punch of the snare and the casual lift of the kick grounding the whole beat in a soul lounge essence.

"People Are Running"
This joint is bare-bones creativity at its finest! On some other-world storytelling shit, Term comes off with deftly penned imagery, offering up an apocalyptic view of what amounts to be the hood through a Matrix lens. And Stat anchors the vocals with an eerie and deceptively simple beat. "People Are Running" features a kick-snare pattern that's steady yet remarkably chaotic, seemingly ready to break fool at any moment. And the 8th-bar mark drum roll is nasty, proving that Statik Selektah is most at home when he explores what he can create with his custom drum sounds. "People Are Running" is hauntingly fresh hip hop/rap music, and fortunately, like most of the cuts on 1982 it's not encumbered by a useless hook.

"You Should Go Home (for breakdown, see Sureshot Singles below)

Sureshot Single(s)

"You Should Go Home" ft. Bun
Dig it, most so-called "for-the-ladies" contraptions usually lean towards the superficial "baby-I-need-you" schlock. But this isn't the case with "You Should Go Home." Here, Statik creates a beat that cooks and bangs just as much as it conjures up that obvious "R&B" feel. The rumbling bongo pattern, flanked by snare brushes "on the 2's," both sub-frameworks shrouded by a tempered hi-hat scheme: genius! The entire measure of the song shuffles with a swing quality often only found with a great traditional live drummer. "You Should Go Home" wonderfully displays Statik Selektah's range as a beatmaker/producer.

Also, the rhymes that grace "You Should Go Home" are not the typical "R&B" filler, either. Termanology proves that he knows how to temper his tone and flow, without sacrificing his subject matter and delivery. And Bun B doesn't just show up making am appearance, on the contrary, he sounds comfortable and confident, completely at home with the tapestry and scope of the beat.

Finally, I'm compelled to point out that ordinarily, I dislike hearing an "R&B" type joint on a hardcore album, but 1982 is no ordinary album, and "You Should Go Home" isn't your average hip hop/rap-"R&B" hybrid—it's both magnetic and catchy. In fact, I anticipate that "You Should Go Home" is going to pick up heavy radio traction.

Sleeper Cuts

"Wedding Bells" ft. Jared Evan
"Wedding Bells" puts you in the mind frame of Color Me Bad's "I Wanna Sex You Up," one of the hardest hip hop/rap influenced joints of all time. But while "Sex You Up" features the sappy sing-pleading of a 90s urban boy band, Termanolgy's dead pan rhymes about a guy with "conflicting" thoughts on marriage makes "Wedding Bells" glide into a whole new zone.

On the surface, "Wedding Bells" is light and humorous, as Term rhymes, "I might bring you a rose/but then I'm stripping ya close/wanted the kid to propose/sorry I'm dippin', I'm gost." Then there's Jared Evan on the chorus singing (masterfully), "She's hearing wedding bells." But listen beneath the surface and you'll hear how seriously Statik Selektah has approached this whole "new jack swing" aesthetic. The sound simply doesn't feel like 2010. Instead, it carries the good vibe nuance of the "new jack swing" sound of the early 1990s. Some might think Stat and Term were taking a chance with this joint, considering how much of 1982 is hardcore. But I beg to differ. "Wedding Bells" isn't only a refreshing change of pace, it's a great example of music makers exploring (and committing to) a variety of their musical interests and influences.

Perhaps on any other Stat and Term album, "Wedding Bells" would stand out as the cold-handed hip hop/rap, R&B-tinged joint. But "You Should Go Home" so powerfully commands that slot that "Wedding Bells" may be slightly overlooked by some. It's a shame, though, because "Wedding Bells" has an entirely different feel and scope than "You Should Go Home." Moreover, "Wedding Bells" has a special power: if you listen closely it will beam you back to 1991.

"Thugaton 2010"
"Thugaton 2010" is stick-up kid background music. Eight bars of it will have you amped up and ready to go rob somebody, even if your name is Becky and you're from Long Island. What's more, "Thugaton 2010" features M.O.P. on a slower tempo beat, a rarity for sure, as most M.O.P. features are usually up-tempo, high octane affairs. Indeed, the beat for "Thugathon 2010" is a deceptively subdued masterpiece. Brilliant, Stat!

Gripes
Absolutely none!

Final Analysis

1982 is an impressive collection of high-grade quality hip hop/rap music.
In addition to the standard fare of male hip hop/rap bravado, this album contains songs with a variety of topics. "Wedding Bells," one of two joints certain to appeal to the ladies, is a cleverly made tune about mis-perceived relationships. "The Hood Is On Fire" and "People Are Running" eloquently describe the perilous and claustrophobic nature of life in the ghetto. "Still Waiting" vividly captures the anxieties of an artist dealing with everyday life while trying hard to make it in the face of uncertain success. "You Should Go Home" is a monster of a mainstream hit that bangs and stays fresh after frequent repeat listens. "Freedom" is a sobering scholarly effort and uplifting anthem that makes you reflect on the social obstacles that face people of color. "World Renown" and "Life Is What You Make It" are songs that aggressively celebrate quality complex lyricism... 1982 is loaded!

While I dig the fact that each song on 1982 executes its aim, what I appreciate more is the fact that there are no gaps in focus or any haphazard attempts at styles and sounds that do not favor the duo or their featured guests. Instead, Statik Selektah and Termanology navigate their collective influences in a manner that registers well with the overall ambition of the album, which I gather was to simply offer the most sincere representation of the pair's skills and genuine interests. In fact, Stat & Term openly embrace their influences. Which doesn't mean that they try to be or even mimic their stated inspiration. Instead, they orchestrate the best of themselves—influential references and all. Thus, any direct comparisons of 1982 to any album by Gang Starr or Pete Rock & CL Smooth (both duos explicitly mentioned in 1982's intro) misses the point and scope of 1982, entirely.

And while Statik Selektah's beats continued to demonstrate why he has quickly risen to the 1st tier of today's beatmakers/producers, I was pleasantly surprised by Termanology's rhymes. On past efforts, I found Termanology's rhyming to be average at best. But his lyrical command on 1982 has forced me to recognize him as a solid lyricist, one with serious depth and much poetic imagination.

Why Statik Selektah and Termanology's 1982 Is Undoubtedly a Classic

Overall, what makes an album a classic? Illmatic, perhaps my most favorite hip hop/rap album of all time, was a collection of abrasive street cuts; it contained no so-called "radio friendly" joints or any "for-the-ladies" selections. And despite what some might want to say otherwise, by 1994, the year Illmatic was released, the radio was already on the road to the "top 8 at 8" pop induced format that it is now. Thus, one of the things that makes Illmatic a classic to many is it's defiantly hardcore street stance. And what about Dr. Dre's The Chronic? Another classic, and another one of my favorites. But unlike Illmatic—an album who's track listing I know verbatim—, I honestly struggle to name any song off of The Chronic beyond "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang" and "Let Me Ride." Then there's 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin', an album that MANY hip hop/rap music journalists failed to initially dub a classic, despite it's obvious appeal both under— and above ground.

Even a superficial listen of the three aforementioned classic albums by Nas, Dr. Dre, and 50 Cent, respectively, tells you that there is no exact science to coming up with a "classic." But if there's a quality that all three albums share, it's their defiantly personal nature, flying in the face of conformity. Statik Selektah & Termanlogy's 1982 shares this same quality (as does The Left's Gas Face; BeatTips.com's review coming next week). At a time where many (if not most hip hop/rap acts) are scrambling to conform—and in many cases, scrambling to openly bite (carbon copy) the sound of their more "successful" contemporaries—, Statik and Term opted for a different, but well-established course.

For 1982, Statik Selektah and Termanology combined to formulate an album that was at times, intellectually interesting and socially engaging; and at all times, musically rewarding. And they did it all using the guide set forth by a number of hip hop/rap's important stalwarts, most notably Gang Starr and Pete Rock & CL Smooth. What's more impressive, however, is the fact that Stat & Term deliver a classic using their own ingenuity: They stand defiantly on their own apparatus of honest music making.

As such, 1982 is an album full of hip hop/rap's best aesthetics. The intentional absence of useless hooks are welcome. The range and high quality nature of the beats are inviting; from beat to beat there are sharp examples of the beatmaking tradition's most fundamental characteristics. Termanology's successful reach for the upper tiers of lyricism are encouraging. The mesh of high profile features is impressive and well-used. Even the song arrangement of the LP (a subtle but important variable in a good album's equation) should be applauded. Thus, 1982 is not only aesthetically pleasing, it's an album worthy of serious MusicStudy.

I’ve long maintained that one of the best “self-preserving” qualities of the hip hop/rap music tradition is its self-defiant nature. Hip hop/rap music is no longer a surprise guest at the big ball. It has arrived by every metric that you can imagine, and now it permeates sharply through American culture as well as major cities around the globe. Moreover, hip hop/rap has gained widespread acceptance as both a formidable entertainment sub-industry and as a serious academic discipline. But despite hip hop/rap’s ascent into the mainstream as well as the upper crusts of society and even high art circles, in its fundamental essence, hip hop/rap still speaks loudest to the “common classes”. That Statik Selektah & Termanology have a strong grasp of this component of hip hop/rap is what makes 1982 so engaging, encouraging, and of course, refreshingly enjoyable. Classic work.
—Sa'id


September 17, 2010

BeatTips Music Review: Rah Digga And Nottz Make 'Classic' A Sureshot

Boom Bap Is Alive And Kickin'

By Mariella Gross and Amir Said (Sa'id)

A couple of weeks ago, BET aired “My Mic Sounds Nice: The Truth about Women in Hip Hop,” a documentary mostly about Female rappers (MCs). Tastefully done and informative, the film raised several provocative questions. Among the questions that the film raised, perhaps the ones that struck the biggest chord were, “What happened to female rappers? Why did they all but disappear? And when (or will) they return to prominence? These questions gave way to further questions, Was there any female rapper left today, who could really engage (or even impress) you for an album's worth of music? Moreover, is there any female rapper who actually deserves (if you will) the title. Fortunately, Rah Digga confirms the affirmative on both counts.

With her latest album, Classic, produced entirely by Nottz, Rah Digga has not only represented for female rappers, she’s thrown it down for all rappers. On one of those albums that you can truly listen to from the beginning to the end—without skipping a song—, Digga shows off her wit and edginess, giving her trash talking, bravado-filled male counterparts a run for their money. And what also makes Classic so enjoyable is the fact that it’s boom bap and storytelling to the fullest. There are no bubblegum beats! And equally refreshing, Classic is devoid of hyper sexualized “nonsense rap.”

Consciously sidestepping the horrendous, ill-fated “sex and non-lyrical” image of the female in today’s rap scene, Digga projects a lyrical confidence that is both historical and right on time. Her voice is distinctive and steady, and her style holds true no matter the beat or subject matter. Simply put, Digga is squarely concerned with being no one but herself, which makes Classic even more enjoyable for fans of the non-filler brand of hip hop/rap.

As for the beats, Nottz—one of the beatmaking tradition’s most valuable personas—delivers nothing but heat. All of the staples that have made him a favorite of your favorite beatmakers are present on Classic: knocking drums; creatively woven arrangements; unique sounds; stylistic arrangements. Plus, with Nottz handling all of the beatwork on Classic, listeners are reminded of the benefits of having one lone beatmaker (producer) at the helm: most notably continuity and one solid musical message.

Finally, on an album full of bangers, which perhaps included only one semi-let down, “This Ain’t No Little Kid Rap” (surprisingly the first release single), it will be hard for you to pick out the top joints on Classic, but some of the clear stand out favorites—which required multiple listens—include: “Feel Good;” “Solidified; ” and “Look What You Done Started.”

Bottom line: Classic gets the BeatTips seal of approval.

July 22, 2010

BeatTips Music Review: Nico The Beast - 'The Beast Within'

Rhyme Brawn And Reason

By Amir Said (Sa'id)

BeatTips Rating: 3/5

Nico The Beast's album, The Beast Within, opens with a question: "Are you a talker or a doer?" Fortunately for fans of non-watered down hip hop/rap music, Nico's an aggressive "doer." In fact, the entire offering plays out like the journal of a hard-nose man who's lived it, and more poignantly, lived thru it.

On the track, "You Mean Everything" (beat by Rhythm J), an incredibly emotional and painful track, Nico uses a hushed delivery (something that works here, but shouldn't be repeated) to drop a wrenching recounting of the loss of his infant song. And Nico's vocals are made whole by Rhythm J's haunting instrumental, which taps the essence of the doo wop era, with searing touch and mastery. This song embodies musical artistry, and presents Nico in its finest moment. It also gives notice that the rest of the album is worthy of a close listen.

Despite the softer vocalizing of "You Mean Everything," you can't be fooled by Nico's hush-tone side. To be certain, his default flow and vocal hue is harsh and appropriately aggressive. Indeed, the track "Never Stop" f/ N.I.Z. (beat by Kornswagger) bears this out rather matter-factly: "I was a numbskull/hated all my fuckin' life/fuck a mic/This is war, pussy, gun ho." And on "Grown Man" f/ 2ew Gun Ciz & Streetz Da Gooch (beat by Rhythm J), Nico's harshness is tempered a bit, but the aggressiveness is certainly still there. And Ciz and Streetz more than represent on this absolute heatrock, proving that Nico's also adept at picking his rhyme partners.

BeatTips Music Review Breakdown

Favorite Joints

8. "Grown Man Music" f/ 2ew Gun Ciz & Streetz Da Gooch (beat by Rhythm J)
This joint is full of soul—literally. It shuffles with a delicate smoothness that is offset by an anchoring drum framework that helps stab the beat into your better senses. What about the vocals? Here, Nico rolls up and down with the scheme of the beat, in an effortless flow that meshes in one of the best rhyme and beat marriages I've ever heard. And again Nico is joined by Ciz & Streetz, who this time black out over the beat, just as much as Nico; each interprets a path that compliments the sketch of the beat. Finally, the soulful sung hook—"Going in circles trying...—" really puts this song over the top. These days, sung hooks are often contrived, nasal, and forced. None of that appears here on "Grown Man Music." The singing is determined and undoctored, steady and natural. A certain compliment to a stellar song.

15. "Make Believe" (beat by Vanderslice)
Dope! Nico is right at home on the more straight-away, emo-free beats. This joint solidifies the fact that solid rhythms are Nico's best chance for musical glory. Beat personified by a Piano and drowning sax sample, backed up by a drum framework that features a hard hitting kick, a succinct snare, and effective 1/4 hi-hat pattern.

The High Points:

3. "Number One Single" f/ 2ew Gunn Ciz & Toke Jones (beat by Kornswagger)
This is clearly the *lead single* joint off of The Beast Within. Song features a "feel good," ready and steady instrumental that matches up well with Nico's smoothed out flow. Throw in respectable rhymework by 2ew Gunn Ciz & Toke Jones, plus a sung (but not annoying) hook, and what you have is a solid single with mass (and critical) appeal.

12. "Golden" f/ Vixon (beat by Stupid Genius)
One of the highest points on the album. Utilizes the synthetic-sounds based style and is personified by its boom bap drum structure. Nico sounds natural; he's clearly right at home with the more "direct," straight forward beat arrangements.

16. "Last Ride" f/ Ashley Howard (beat by Distant Starr, Steve Leevy, and Noochman)
Story rhyme that details the loss of a close friend to a fatal car crash. Beat is dope: bouncing kick, syncopated tambourine, and an understated clap. Synthetic-sounds based arrangement that's warm and well thought-out.

The Low Points:

6. "The Beast's Symphony" (beat by Samik)
This song features an "emo" style beat that's very overbearing. There's simply too much going on with the beat; so much so, it made it hard for me to decide what to listen to, the beat or the rhyme. Great songs never force you to make that choice, or even ask the question in the first place.

9. "What Do They Want" (beat by Samik)
Song sounds like an attempt at club/pop radio play. I'm sure beatmaker (producer) Samik's future is bright, particularly if he's aiming for R&B or the more *urban pop* centric type hip hop/rap, but his ambitious (over produced) tracks seem to neither inspire Nico, nor match his naturally intimate, but aggressive, rhyme style.

11. "Appear To Be" f/ P. Shaw (beat by Kels of TN2 Productions)
Another "emo" song... This joint was difficult to listen to. The beat seems to want to be several different styles all at once. There's the Southern bounce in full effect: heavy syncopated kick and hi-hat and the proverbial clap. But then there's this strong dose of synth ambiance. The drumwork I can handle, but the ambient arrangement was too much to bare, kept me thinking of the inside of an insane asylum, or a transitional scene in the teen vampire drama, Twilight. This song just doesn't fit on the album.

Final Analysis

Nico is a solid lyricist, in the sense that he can pen interesting rhymes and switch up his rhyme flows. Thing is, I'm not convinced that all of the flows that he showcases on The Beast Within match his knack for subject matter and intricate detail. Moreover, I just don't think all of the flows are even necessary. On "emo" style beats (notably "The Beast's Symphony," and "Appear To Be"), Nico is out of place; he seems to be forcing out a flow rather than lyrically cutting loose. However, on solid rhythms and boom blap influenced tracks, Nico sounds natural, confident, and certain. On the more straight-ahead beat affair, Nico flows with charisma, and his voice comes thru clearer.

As far as the beats go, there's a welcomed balance of sample-based and synthetic-sounds-based joints. And if Nico is the star lyricist on The Beast Within, then I'm convinced that Rhythm J is the spotlight beatmaker on this album. But I would be remiss if I didn't note that Vanderslice and Kornswagger shine incredibly bright as well. In fact, Kornswagger delivers the album's sure-shot single, "Number One Single." And although the tracks made by Samik might catch some attention for their sheer "density," they are ultimately more suited for R&B and not Nico's straight-edge rhymes and flow.

Overall, The Beast Within's stand-outs are very dependable. But, unfortunately, the album suffers because of a common case of quality control. There are quite a few stellar joints on The Beast Within, but it's a shame that they have to shoulder selections that simply don't measure up. If The Beast Within would have been smaller in scale—perhaps just 10 songs, instead of *16*—, it would have been a much stronger album. (If I had executive produced this project, I would have lobbied hard to keep tracks 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, and 13 off!) A straight dose of 10 songs would have tightened up the whole effort, creating track-to-track consistency, and making repeat listens more enjoyable. Nonetheless, The Beast Within is a solid effort that I feel comfortable recommending.

Dedicated to exploring the art of beatmaking in all of its glory.

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