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The Plug, Vol. 1: Chuck D vs. Hot 97, 11 Hip-Hop Reviews, and Ab-Soul’s Rap Ingenuity

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Reviews: 11 Hip-Hop Releases from June

Zelooperz – Help

 The Plug, Vol. 1: Chuck D vs. Hot 97, 11 Hip Hop Reviews, and Ab Souls Rap Ingenuity

Grade: B+

Danny Brown struggled for years to get where he is today, and that path is well-documented in his music. Now that he’s achieved the level of success he has, he’s setting out to bring other Detroit talents to the public consciousness, and now his Bruiser Brigade protégé Zelooperz has put out Help, a mixtape that lends credence to Brown’s ability as a mentor figure. In a recent interview with Complex, Brown compared Zelooperz to a 20-year-old version of himself, and the comparison is fitting. Zelooperz’s flow is discordant but endlessly entertaining, his backing beats (many of them produced by Matrax) consistently slap, and there is an immense amount of extremely raw talent on display — all things that people felt about Brown on his rise to prominence. There’s a lot about Zelooperz, and the rest of the Bruiser Brigade, that bodes well for Detroit rap, and these 17 tracks serve as a phenomenal first impression. –Pat Levy

Open Mike Eagle – Dark Comedy

ome dark comedy album The Plug, Vol. 1: Chuck D vs. Hot 97, 11 Hip Hop Reviews, and Ab Souls Rap Ingenuity

Grade: B+

Open Mike Eagle would be right at home on an early Rhymesayers roster or as a signee of Rawkus Records. He feels like an independent rap transplant from a different time. Dark Comedy embraces that realization with dry humor, surveying the digital rap landscape with acerbic wit and snickering at its follies like an inside joke – all while displaying comically good technical chops.

The highlights could sneak into a stand-up set. Hannibal Burress has a feature. So does Kool A.D., who basically made a name off satirical rap with Das Racist, and Mike is at his best when he’s laughing at the expense of others. On “Doug Stamper (Advice Raps)” he offers up his opinion on just about everything. On “Thirsty Ego Raps” he explores his concerns about not getting his due. “Let’s talk about the nada this positive shit gets me,” he spits. With Dark Comedy, his ability to take everything lightly gets him some of the attention he deserves. –Sheldon Pearce

Katie Got Bandz – Drillary Clinton 2

drillary2 The Plug, Vol. 1: Chuck D vs. Hot 97, 11 Hip Hop Reviews, and Ab Souls Rap Ingenuity

Grade: B

With Drillary Clinton 2, Chicago’s Katie Got Bandz proves that she is the most important female figure in the drill scene, bringing a new perspective to a genre dominated by vacuous personas and songs that don’t require much thinking on the part of the listener or, presumably, the performer. Katie’s energy never subsides, and while the beats (all produced by Block On Da Trakk) don’t differentiate themselves all too much, it’s Katie’s verses that keep the focus solely on her. There isn’t a huge chance that any of these songs become new drill anthems like past tracks from Chief Keef and King L, but that’s not necessarily just because of the female element; there just isn’t much on the tape that could go mainstream that type of way. Regardless, it’s clear that Katie is a legit talent, repping both her city and her gender with tenacity. –Pat Levy

Various Artists – XXL 2014 Freshmen Mixtape

gangsta grillz The Plug, Vol. 1: Chuck D vs. Hot 97, 11 Hip Hop Reviews, and Ab Souls Rap Ingenuity

Grade: B

XXL magazine’s annual, heavily debated Freshmen list — the pile of burning-up MCs and, this year for the first time, R&B singers who are projected to have a big year — is probably not worth fighting about. Inevitably, though, the roster provides a thorough glimpse of hip-hop culture, including hard-spitting grinders and ascendant true rookies. The XXL 2014 Freshmen Mixtape, then, is an informative listen because there’s a sense that this is now. The tape is eclectic, but per XXL‘s 17-year existence, these artists seem to play up their most time-tested skills over production by The Olympicks and DJ Montay, among others. Chicago teen Lil Bibby, for instance, abandons his gun talk on “Thoughts” in favor of honest meditation: “These are private thoughts/ Why I’m sayin’ this shit?” On “The Good”, Aftermath’s Jon Connor continues to put his hometown of Flint on the map, bringing the compilation’s toughest MC work. As for those crooners, the silk-voiced Ty Dolla Sign and August Alsina honey hip-hop’s dirty tendencies on the likes of “Type of Shit I Hate” and “Right On”, respectively. They fit right in. –Michael Madden

50 Cent – Animal Ambition: An Untamed Desire to Win

animal ambition The Plug, Vol. 1: Chuck D vs. Hot 97, 11 Hip Hop Reviews, and Ab Souls Rap Ingenuity

Grade: C

When 50 Cent’s 2003 debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, came out, it’s not like he was a particularly dexterous or inventive rapper. But there was something about him — probably his charisma, which was more youthful than that of New York’s reigning king, Jay Z — that made him the favorite of seemingly every athlete I read about in Sports Illustrated for Kids. And everyone else for that matter. Flash forward to Animal Ambition: An Untamed Desire to Win, his “comeback album” and follow-up to 2009’s Before I Self Destruct. 50 seems increasingly apathetic about his position and his artistry. There’s a beat here from 2008. Nearing 39 years of age, 50 is still rapping about being rich, hollowly so. Frankly, it’s amazing he’s never released a song called “Hustler” until now (though Get Rich had “Hustler’s Ambition”).

But his seeming boredom isn’t always a bad thing; sometimes, it fits the air of nonchalance he’s trying to convey. 50 has released dozens of songs over the past five years, but surprisingly, Animal (which features production by Dr. Dre and Jake One) weighs in at just 11 songs, 38 minutes. Accordingly, it feels fast-paced, which turns out to be a good thing even though there’s not much to latch onto. There are a couple concept songs here (the title track actually features elephant noises and growling, while “Heartbeat”‘s deep kick mimics the title function). More crucial is the bloody-knuckles tough talk, which 50 is still capable of selling. The opener, “Hold On”, features the memorable line “Fuck a boy scout/ I’ll lay your ass out,” then something even more squirmy: “Don’t make me write my name across your face with a razor.” I wish 50 were about that life more often. It’s not like the Queens native has wronged us in any way, so it’s still easy to root for him. Animal Ambition gives some reason to cheer, just not enough. –Michael Madden

Sage Francis – Copper Gone

sage copper The Plug, Vol. 1: Chuck D vs. Hot 97, 11 Hip Hop Reviews, and Ab Souls Rap Ingenuity

Grade: C

Providence’s Sage Francis sits as the resident godfather of underground rap. On previous efforts, Francis gave a multifaceted attack of lyrical prowess and diverse themes; however, on Copper Gone, his first outing following a four-year hiatus, his focus is a bit singular and flat. The beats (by Doomtree’s Cecil Otter and Francis’s longtime friend Buck 65, among others) often eclipse Francis’s lyrics — never a good sign. The lyrics get boring as the rest of the album blasts scattershot with rage aimed at nothing. Is he mad at himself when he says, “I am what I am/ That’s all I am/ Bullshit ain’t got that right touch”? Or is he mad at the internet when, on “The Place She Feared the Most”, he says, “I am not a tween/ Don’t wanna talk in memes or let the internet infiltrate all my dreams”? It’s never clear, and so the album seems in disarray. “Make ‘Em Purr” and “Grace” both stand out because Francis hones in on heartbreak, focusing the laser on the right spot and doing so in a wonderfully metaphorical way. Still, it’s not enough to save the album from overall mediocrity. –Nick Freed

Sasha Go Hard – Feel So Good

Sasha_Go_Hard_Feel_So_Good-front-large

Grade: C

Sasha Go Hard is tucked somewhere just behind Katie Got Bandz in the Chicago drill rap scene. It’s unclear whether or not there is a place for her. She is a far more skilled rapper lyrically, but her punches don’t always land. Her pitch can be piercing, and it gets difficult to endure for long stretches. On her latest tape, Feel So Good, the trend continues, but not for lack of trying. Feel So Good is super inconsistent and uneven for a 40-minute listen. There’s no opportunity to settle in; for every moment of promise there is a moment that’s painful to sit through. While songs like the blistering “Chiraq Pt. 2” and “Out the Bottle” are examples of the heights Sasha can achieve, records like “Blame It on You” and the title track, which features former White Girl Mob rapper Lil Debbie, prove that she is a long way from standing at the precipice of her budding subgenre. –Sheldon Pearce

Canibus – Fait Accompli

canibus fat The Plug, Vol. 1: Chuck D vs. Hot 97, 11 Hip Hop Reviews, and Ab Souls Rap Ingenuity

Grade: C-

You thought this was a rap album? You (and I) thought wrong. It seems like we’re hearing Canibus’ voice 25% of the time on the 79-minute Fait Accompli, his 15th studio album. The redeeming factor of the album — an overly political record with excessive interludes, themes of government and religion, and mentions of martial law — is that he sounds focused and purposeful when he actually is spouting lyrics. For every sarcastically placed sample, there’s a stretch when he gets back to his classic, snarly style for three or four minutes. After all, technique is important to the now 39-year-old; he has an album called Mic Club: The Curriculum, after all. There’s merit in releasing an album that won’t gain you any new fans, that only old heads will have the patience for. But the problem is this seems more like a Michael Moore documentary than an album. I wish big homie would just take a stab at the Migos flow already. –Michael Madden

G-Eazy – These Things Happen

G-Eazy-these

Grade: C-

Has anybody ever asked you, “Did you hear [insert album here] yet?” and you have to think about it despite hearing it just hours ago? It’s not that G-Eazy’s These Things Happen is an abysmal album; there are somewhat witty lyrics from the Oakland rapper, and the production is solid overall. But at least try to come off a little affable. If you’re aware of the “I was struggling to make it here, so since I’m here now, I’ll flaunt my wealth and get the girls — maybe your girl because you’re broke” narrative, you’re not missing much. The bigger problem is how much G-Eazy seems to be aware of that fact. He sounds remarkably uninspired or bummed out on every track. This sucks enjoyment from any of his great lines. You can picture him rolling his eyes in I’m-so-over-this-shit disgust when he raps, “I just want to stay broke forever/ Yeah that’s that shit no one ever said” (“I Mean It”). It’s a lot of party rap without the energy, and that’s why These Things Happen feels vapid. –Brian Josephs

Lil B – Hoop Life

lil b The Plug, Vol. 1: Chuck D vs. Hot 97, 11 Hip Hop Reviews, and Ab Souls Rap Ingenuity

Grade: C-

Can you imagine being pulled up at a stoplight next to a soccer mom and her clan as Lil B repeats, “I fucked a cheerleader in the butt”? Unfortunately, that’s one of this tape’s most memorable moments, and the overall silliness overshadows its worthwhile stretches. “Fuck KD”, the infamous Kevin Durant diss track, will be the best-known song here by far thanks to its concept and WTF rock chorus, but it’s not the strongest. That would be the bustling “Good Day”, the syrupy “Payton on Broncos Jordan on Wizards”, or the woozy “Scouts Report”. Meanwhile, the half-ratchet “Clink Clink” and the Blueprint-evoking “Marble Floors and Pain” are beats worthy of summer freestyles. On “Gotta Make the NBA”, B pretends that he’s on that early morning workout grind. The feeling, though, is that he’s never actually worked that hard at anything besides his social media game. Hoop Life, in turn, sounds slapped-together, spanning 33 songs in 121 minutes. Then again, there’s no off-season for this martian, and that’s kind of the point — take it or leave it. –Michael Madden

K Camp – SlumLords

slumlords The Plug, Vol. 1: Chuck D vs. Hot 97, 11 Hip Hop Reviews, and Ab Souls Rap Ingenuity

Grade: C-

Can Atlanta’s K Camp, who made the sticky single “Cut Her Off”, hold your attention for a full mixtape? Perhaps, but not here. Over beats that balance outer space vibes and trap urgency (courtesy of guys like Bobby Kritical and Big Fruit), K Camp’s warbly sing-song and melodic cadence works decently in SlumLords‘ first half — that is, after we get past the awful “Your hoe will get slayed” on the project’s intro. It’s formulaic, but “Down Bad”‘s bounce and “Long Live the Kings 2″‘s druggy melancholy can be addictive. It’s still a very spotty set of songs, though. The “These hoes ain’t got no manners” chant on “No Manners” is so contradictory and misogynist that it edges into satire with that Euro-bounce synth twirling behind it. K Camp straight-up runs out of gas as the mixtape draws to a close. It’s hard to argue against that with lines like “I blame the toilet for this shit” (“Don’t Blame Me”) and “I swear these niggas trash/ They remind me of the grouch” (“Off the Floor”). Let’s trim chop off the fat a little next time. –Brian Joesephs

Bonus: Video of the Month

Yung Lean – “Yoshi City”

Grade: A+

There’s just too much right about this video. Literally every part of it warms my heart. As a rapper, 17-year-old Swede Yung Lean is about as divisive as they come, but even a hater has to enjoy someone making an effort to bring rap hands back with a vengeance while a My Little Pony stuffed animal and a Renault Twizy adorn his video. The real star of “Yoshi City” might be producer Yung Gud, who smokes the fuck out of a cigarette while looking melancholy as hell at the end of the video. To those who don’t fuck with Yung Lean, this video got 100K views its first day up, so you better get on board or get left behind. –Pat Levy

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