Friday, February 10, 2012

Album Review: Sha Stimuli - The Calling

Higher Power,
First and foremost, having listened to an album I may have otherwise passed over, I am grateful for the opportunity to review ShaStimuli’s new album The Calling.  It is exactly what I need to be listening to. You already know, but for the reader’s sake, I’d like to confess that this is the first LP of Sha’s that  I’ve heard.  I’ve heard him featured on other people’s stuff.  I’m kind of embarrassed about it.  However, I’m also thankful that now I know.  It’s never too late.

If you think people aren’t rapping about anything anymore, and frankly you’re upset about this, then you and Sha Stimuli share a lot in common.  You want to talk about real talk.  This album has that.  It’s evident he’s not even trying to shoot for radio play with this n-teenth offering.  Well, shouts out to my local station in Washington, DC –WPFW-FM 89.3 – they’d definitely play it (please?).  Point is, he’s not shooting FOR radio play, he’s shooting AT the garbage on the commercial radio today.  You know the standard knocks on the commercial radio acts: bling, guns, hos, money, cars, etc.  However, he happens to be a ridiculous emcee.  His wordplay is hall-of-fame caliber.  I don’t say that lightly.  AND he’s on some grown-man ish.  At some points, he walks a fine line between passion and anger.  That’s cool, but I prefer the former.  And he delivers.  You can tell he’s telling his story straight from the heart.  The album describes his experiences in the hip hop industry as an artist and from his early days growing up in the game as Lord Digga’s younger brother; his thoughts on the state of the art form today; and his life and relationship experiences.  The emotions on this record range from inspired to disappointed to angered. There’s definitely a range of beats used as well, from dope jazzy beats to frenetic synthesized beats.  Lots of references to religion and spirituality, and well-played. 

The first track, the requisite introduction, Thee Alarm kicks the album off with some sort of synthesized Munsters theme.  Ok.  Not sure where this is going.  Next track is Volume.  First things I noticed on this track were the frenetic guitar sounds…kinda caught me off-guard.  Sha lyrically dresses down the every emcee at an impressive pace and lets the world know that he’s not bowing down at the expense of integrity.  I’m feelin’ it.  Lot’s of energy brewing here.  Next is Me.  It’d just be better if I showed you how it starts (or see the video below) - the “17,440 spittas, three-thousand corny and five-thousand are bitter/twenty-four hundred love weed, pussy, or liquor/in the game just so they can get fame and money quicker/four-thousand imitate Weezy, Dreezy, and Jigga…  then goes on to say the ways in which he is unlike all the rest.  And he’s about right.  Most emcess aren’t bringin’ it like this.  Absolutely knocks it out of the park, and the female chorus toward the end is amazing.

The first thing I noticed about From Me to You was that it had more of a hip hop beat that I am used to.  Perhaps my favorite beat on the album.  Here’s him rapping about his transformation which is a recurring theme throughout the album: ”..I went from wishin and waitin for things to happen/now I snatch it and take it/I went from whack to your favorite/I went from attic to basement/I mean mainstream to underground/ you can’t even place me…and this goes out to you and you and you and you…and you.”  Another solid track.
On Brenda’s Baby Sha kinda talks about how much has happened in the last 15 years since 2Pac died vis a vis the reference to 2Pac’s first solo hit, Brenda’s Got a Baby.”  “Spittin it raw, but shiftin my course, it’s been fifteen years without Mr. Shakur/and if you think about the shit that he saw/I hope the pictures I draw/can come close, ‘cause I give you my all.”  But essentially he’s saying that nothing’s happened since since Pac died in that the same issues from then, are only worse now.  Caps off a verse with, “I used to rap like you, I was SEVEN.”  He’s definitely on a mission.  He’s trying to use the mic to bring a higher level of  awareness to his audience.

Outro – sounds like an old movie clip that sounds like a person reflecting internally about the right path to take forward…then a brilliant closing verse, asking people essentially to seize the day…step ya game up.
The only thing that I wasn’t huge on with this album was some of the beats.  And even there, it’s a personal preference thing.  The lyrics are so tight, I never struggled even to get through the tracks that I wasn’t keen on.  This is not the kind of album you listen to before or at da club.  This is the album you listen to in your man cave, study, den, what-have-you under candle light in a recliner “relaxing” while you’re wife and kids are watching American Idol.  If you’re not really listening to the lyrics, you’re really not capturing the essence of this album. 

End of the day: I give this 4.7 out of 5 juiceboxes.  It’s an “A” album on any true head’s grading scale.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Drive-By Album Review: Nu MAGIK - The Vintage LP

This album is my introduction to Nu MAGIK. According to Nu MAGIK's label, HiPNOTT Records, "Nu MAGIK, comprised of Chicago-based emcee Draz and Los Angeles-based producer Duece Maxwell, have joined HiPNOTT Records to re-release their 2009 debut album, The Vintage LP. The free re-release will serve as a precursor to the duo’s upcoming HiPNOTT debut, V2 to be released early 2012. This special edition re-release of The Vintage LP IS available on compact disc for the first time ever and features two bonus remixes produced by UK producers, Jazz Spastiks. Features on the album include Raphael Saadiq, JusBrea of Deep Rooted, Blu Smith, Phoebe Mac & Khan, Royale Krown, Pucali Raw and Smoke E. Digglera."

So here's my candid thoughts on the album:

Intro track hot.  One thing I require of any dope hip hop album is a bangin' scratch break.  And this album leads off with a pretty sweet one.  Unfortunately, the album that backs up the dope intro is nothing like the intro.  "Yeah", the album's 4th track was the first non-intro track that I liked.  I found myself thinking about some '90s AZ.  I was definitely digging on the bass guitar in the background.  All three verses were nice.  The song has an uplifting, soulful message.  It's not "Juicy" in terms of uplifting (really, what is) but its nice and along that line.  "Summer Magik" is totally meh (see video below)

"Much too late", I struggled to make it to the first hook.  Nexxxt.  Hey, "Just Another Rapper" had a scratch break!  But the song's title kinda describes Nu MAGIK in my opinion...just another rapper.  Aside from the sparse scratch breaks, the production did not move me.

"Home Sweet Home" features Raphael Saadiq on the hook.  You know he's nice.  But alas, the verses are average at best.  

The album also includes a tribute song to Nu MAGIK's grandma called, "A Song for You".  I think it is a very nice idea, but to me, nothing about my grandma says, "hip hop tribute".

"Yeah (Jazz Spastiks Remix)" is, like the original version, nice.  The Jazz Spastiks beat is good and jazzy.

There is nothing I'm hearing in this album that makes it stand out.  The album is not terrible, but in all honesty, I'm glad I had the opportunity to cop this album for free.  I'm not sure I would've paid for it.  Lord knows there's already a queue of dope albums I need to plunk down on.  I will definitely make sure I give their next album a preview before committing to the purchase.    Again, this is a re-release of their 2009 debut.  It's now 2012, and perhaps things done changed.

Album in a nutshell in my opinion - Lacks sufficient scratch breaks, but the ones that were there were nice.  R&B hooks. Clean (as in not vulgar) lyrics.  Lyrically average.  Word play, which I kinda like, is absent for the most part.  Slow flow.  Were there not so many amazing acts popping up over the last few years, I'd probably have dug this more.

2 out of 5 Juiceboxes.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dude, Where's My MegaUpload

So, PIPA is being delayed for the time being until the Senate can work through all the blowback they received in conjunction with the recent blackout of many major websites this week. 

In related news, the file-sharing website MegaUpload was shut down.  USA Today reports that a five-count indictment was handed down alleging copyright infringement, money laundering and racketeering (which reminds me, I really need to get to the tennis courts soon.) 

Speaking for myself, I can say that I have frequented this site, and others like it A LOT!  Many of the independent artists that I follow utilize this site, and others like it (like Z-Share, Hulkshare, etc.) to promote their music.  And it's all legit.  The copyright holder is the one uploading the mixtapes or EP's or album previews or what have you.

I certainly have no insight into Justice's case or evidence, but I think it is messed up that they just shut the whole shit down.  I understand that the Motion Picture Association is quite upset about the illegal sharing of copyrighted movies, but this response seems disproportionate to the offense.

Before MegaUpload was shut down, it released the following statement (according to the USA Today story)

"The fact is that the vast majority of Mega's Internet traffic is legitimate, and we are here to stay. If the content industry would like to take advantage of our popularity, we are happy to enter into a dialogue. We have some good ideas. Please get in touch,"

You know, my personal opinion is that this seems to be a move by industries who are unwilling to modify their business models to an ever-evolving environment.  No one's going to the movies anymore because they have theaters in their homes.  No one's buying full albums anymore (well many do not) because they can download just the tracks they like.  People are ditching cable (myself included) because the cost is simply not worth it anymore.  Content providers need to wisen up and become leaders in change, and stop trying to piss on folks who are bringing innovation to content distribution.

Virginia Congressman Accepts Buffetts' Challenge

 Congressman Scott Rigell, Republican Congressman representing Virginia's 2nd District (Virginia Beach/Hampton area) was the first to accept Warren Buffett's challenge to the GOP that he would match all GOP congressional contributions to Treasury to pay down the debt

In a letter to Buffett, Rigell tells Buffett of his decision to take 15 percent of his Congressional salary for years 2011 and 2012 and send it to the Treasury in service of our national debt.  Rigell's contribution totals approximately $49,000.  In response, an impressed Buffet wrote, "I will be delighted to match both your 2011 and 2012 contributions."

Further, Buffet commented:

"This would be a form of competition between the two parties that the American public would applaud.  'Rivalry' in this matter might possibly lead to better cooperation between the two parties and it also might be helpful in restoring the faith of the American people in Congress.  This is much needed and even small steps are important."

I happen to agree with Buffett on this one.  Anyone who takes this challenge to put their money where their mouths are (hell, I find it much easier to spend other people's than my own,) ought to be commended.  I also agree that, albeit symbolic, that this is a small step (the combined $98,000 contributions doesn't even put a dent in the $15,000,000,000,000 national debt.)

I am very interested to see how this plays out.  Buffett said he will wait until April 20th (4/20) to stroke his check to see who all else opts to accept the challenge.

I certainly plan to provide updates on this story.

In the meantime, here is a recent interview with Rigell on Bloomberg regarding his accepting Buffett's challenge:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Drive-by Album Review: Tanya Morgan - You and What Army

In honor of all the hard work MLK put into the civil rights cause, I will get some shit done around the house today.  Thought I'd review Tanya Morgan's latest album, You and What Army while I run some laundry and take down the Christmas tree.  You and What Army came out in November 2011, so it's still possible you haven't heard this yet.

Tanya Morgan is a hip hop duo consisting of Downwill and Von Pea, from Cincinnati and Brooklyn respectively.  Although their first EP, Sunset, dropped in 2005, your boy over here didn't hear of them until I copped their 2009 album, Brooklynati, in 2010.  In general, I really like their tone, their flow, their lyrical abilities.  And for the most part, I dig their beats.

My first impression is that this album has similar energy as early Black Eyed Pea albums (before they took on Fergie and completed their crossover to pop.)  When BEP was nice.  And to me, this is a major compliment.

The first track, Do It Tanya, along with a strong-ass coffee has me wanting to dance as I'm moving my first load of laundry into the dryer.  Whatever That's Mine (video below)  is a fine example of lyrical positivity.  Has a similar effect as Outkast's Git Up, Get Out (although nothing alike in sound,) in that there is an overcoming negativity with positivity quality to it, but not quite to the extent of Outkast/Goodie Mob's first-time hall-of-fame ballot inductee into the hip hop hall of fame.

Gotta Get Over It really has a 90s-style R&B-laced hip hop joint with its R. Kelly-esque hook.  A few songs in between that didn't inspire me to stop working.  Then, "We Rollin'" comes up.  Up-tempo, with fluid delivery, and fun.  I'll remember to bring this in the sporty convertible I don't  own when I head out for a drive in said unowned car.

Drive-by initial reaction: The 9-track, just-over-a-half-hour-in-length album, has just over half of the album of good music.  More good than average.  But just barely.  Perhaps it's because I have very high expectations of Tanya Morgan.  To me, they are one of my favorite hip hop acts of today.  There are definitely tracks worth putting in the mix.  Overall, I give it 3.5 juiceboxes (out of a possible 5.)  For the money (oh, did I forget to mention the digital album is FREE,) it is a must have for anyone's collection.  I'm very interested to see what 2012 holds for Tanya.

Now I 'bout to get, WHATEVER THAT'S MINE!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Warren Buffett Wins Yet Another Pissing Contest Against Republicans

Warren Buffett, uncharacteristically cool mo-fo for a guy of his stature (not that I've met him or anything,) has put his money where his mouth is with regard to his discontent with our current tax policy. 

Last summer, he wrote an op-ed prior to the convening of the "Supercommittee" (what a waste of time and money) in which he stated that he and the uber-rich friends he has who "make money with money" have a much lower tax burden than people who "earn money from a job".  Now ain't that some shit?

So, naturally, he suggests that the net tax rates for wealthy Americans should be higher than for those of us in the working class.  In response, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) essentially told Buffett that he was more than welcome to stroke a check to the Treasury to help pay down the national debt, if he felt so inclined.  Wow, really, so now the two options available to us (based on Republican preferences) is to either cut spending, or to allow the wealthiest to decide if they want to pay as much in taxes as working folk?  Clearly, I'm missing something here.  Ohhhhh, right, I forgot we have to have the working class subsidize the "job creators".  Because lord knows, if taxes went up on the wealthiest Americans, well, they would all stop growing their businesses.  Because at anything higher than 35% for income and 15% for capital gains, rich entrepreneurs will lose interest in making more money.  They'll stop wanting to work hard and gain market share.  At least that's what economist/comedian Arthur Laffer would have you believe.

Gladly, I caught the PBS News Hour last night where his assumptions were (to put it nicely) called into question.  He convincingly (that is, for non-inquiring minds) claims that if the marginal tax rates for the wealthiest were increased anything above the current 35 percent, that tax receipts would actually decline.  Arthur, to use your own curve, what you claim could be true, if there was some evidence that 35 percent yields optimal tax receipts.  But you don't have this evidence.

I digress.  In the past few days, Buffett upped his game and said he would match the entirety of contributions made by Republican lawmakers toward the debt, one-for-one.  Now that's what the fuck I'm talkin' about!  Now we'll see which of the deficit hawks are willing to play with the big boys.  And because McConnell pulled such a dick-move by telling Buffett he could send in a check, Buffett said he'd match McConnell's contributions 3-to-1. 

In sum, this exchange of ideas just "futhah" let's me know that the Republicans in office right now have no problem with the richest of us (which includes pretty much all of them) paying significantly less of their "earnings" to pay for our debts than folks like me.  We'll see how that works for them come election time. 

Nothing like climbing the ladder and then pulling it up behind you!