ATMOSPHERE / RAS KASS / M.I.A. / BISHOP LAMONT [#GeekSwag Reviews]: Rhyme Sayers.
Over the past 20-years, Slug and Ant have been speaking their minds and reeling you in with their own style of thought-provoking hip-hop. Over time they’ve stayed true to their style–and unlike some older groups–haven’t strayed from what they do best in the slightest. That being said, if you’re looking for hard, banging beats, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if you’re looking for something to make you think about real world topics and bob your head at the same time, then these are your guys. Fishing Blues, their most recent submission doesn’t miss on any of the classic Atmosphere style. I’ll admit, it took me a few listens to really get into the album, but it grew on me fast and quickly found it’s spot in my rotation of music. My favorite track, “Ringo”, talks about society’s love of bad press (or as the chorus so aptly puts it, “everybody wanna see a falling star”), by trying to shine a little bit of humor on it.
(Cont.) If you’ve always loved Atmosphere, you won’t be disappointed this time around; if you’re a “new schooler” the slow, melancholy beats might not be your thing. But if you’re looking to sit back, relax and “stimulate your mind”, Fishing Blues will surely give you your fix. Old hip-hop heads will love the classic sound and will surely appreciate the return to the golden days of hip-hop that Sean Daley and Anthony “Not the Pelican” Davis brings with them. #GeekSwag fans will love “When the Lights Go Out” with hip-hop supervillains Doctor Octagon (Kool Keith) and Doctor Doom (MF DOOM). Even sociopolitical rap fiends will enjoy Slug’s commentary on the current police state with “Seismic Waves.” And if you thought Atmosphere couldn’t hold up after all this time… the 6000+ uproarious youth that made it out to Atmosphere’s show at the Shrine (in downtown Los Angeles) on Saturday should prove that even the younger generation has connected with a formula the group has seemingly no plans to change anytime soon. 3.25/5 Fishing Poles.
Ras Kass is an anomoly of a rapper. He’s never had much mainstream appeal, yet is considered a legend in the Southwest and Northeast. Part of the reason for that? His style is a masterful blend of the type of clever and complex wordplay made famous in New York and the anti-establishment message that arose in Los Angeles. That combination was in full display in his first album Soul On Ice, which is widely considered an all-time classic on the underground scene. His latest album, Intellectual Property: Soul On Ice 2 is named in part as a sequel to that classic album in honor of its 20th anniversary. Unfortunately, SOI2 suffers due to that direct comparison.
This is a strange album, partly because of how long it is, coming in at an extraordinary 26 tracks. It contains some of his classic historical, societal (“Hood On Ice”), political and religious criticism but nowhere near what you would expect from Ras. That isn’t to say it isn’t good, as there are a lot of dope songs. The RZA featured, callback to ’93 Wu, “Constant Elevation” and “Sycamore Tree” instantly shine; but a lot of the album falls in the good-not-great category, while a few songs are sadly substandard (“Wwjd”, “In the Moment”). Hell, one in particular — “Kanye Moment” — is absolutely baffling. After listening to that track over and over again, I still can’t tell if he’s mocking trap music or making a nod to it; it’s just a song done in that style with some lyrics critical of mainstream artists. As strange as that song is, most of the good outweighs the bad.
(Cont.) Bangers such as “Trade Places”, “Bishop” and “Paypal the Feature” have a lot of his clever lyricism mixed with social commentary that I genuinely love. Ultimately, the biggest flaw of this album is probably its length; as sound as most of IP:SO2 is, quite a few of these songs could have been cut. Of course, while none of the songs reach the heights of his classics like “Nature of the Threat” or “The Evil That Men Do”, this is definitely an album with plenty of interesting features (Sean P! Bun B! A.F.R.O.! O.C.! Bumpy Knux & Onyx!) and tracks worthy of repeated listens (“Bardom” with the legendary KRS-One; the Statik Selektah laced “Promised Land”, etc.). For almost any other artist, this effort might even be a classic! But for the legendary Ras Kass, Soul On Ice: Part Deux does come off as a bit underwhelming. And that’s a compliment. 3.5/5 Female Dominated Worlds.
M.I.A.‘s 5th–and rumored final–album, AIM, is especially eclectic, and offers a very intriguing blend of hip-hop, pop, and electronic music. I’ve always enjoyed M.I.A, but this is my first crack at one of her full-length albums. Hope this one isn’t the last! The production is awesome, with a 2-shot surprise from EDM superstar Skrillex. Even though critics have criticized AIM’s tone as a mere collection of disparate sounds, this #GeekSwagger had no issue vibing to it all the way through and enjoying it more than once. Favorite tracks: “Borders,” “Bird Song” (both Blaqstar and Diplo remixes), “Go Off,” and “Foreign Friend”. 3.75/5 Sri Lankan Bibles.
Ever since the original Reformation project failed to release on Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label back in 2010, Carson’s Bishop Lamont has been making the underground mixtape rounds — showcasing his lyrical skill set on street tapes like The Layover and The (P)reformation. Second song in, “Found A Way Out” sounds like pure industry freedom over a menacing Dre-type banger (my bad, production credits cannot be found for this album anywhere); while the next track, “The Heretic”, stays true to the thematic “GodHatesGeeks” sacrilege with spiritual keys and lines like, “Maybe I’m a genius — the world’s greatest poet / Or maybe I’m a hack and all my raps the devil wrote it”. The aptly named Bishop doesn’t hold back on the track, either, attacking pedophile priests and other religious hypocrites.
(Cont.) Fellow Carson native Ras Kass (album review up above!) shares bars over “The Realest,” while both “Shoot Em Up” and “Crazy” (featuring longtime Aftermath pal, Stat Quo) bang to the classic sounds of a mid-2000’s West Coast, despite sounding a tad dated. That old sound is perfectly OK tho, since The Reformation is a collection of songs Bishop either got back from Dre’s crates–or freshly recorded to keep within the original vision of the LP (i.e. “Are You Ready” with Rapper Pooh, “Life or Death” with Xzibit). It’s impressive that the spiritual themes (i.e. “Lord in Heaven”, “Speak to Me”) mesh so well with the emcee’s highly detailed narratives and catchy hooks (the only song that really sounds out-of-place is “Here We Go Again,” which is the modern EDM/Trap type banger). If you consider yourself a fan of West Coast lyricism like Chino XL or Crooked I, and Eminem album production/hooks, The Reformation is a must listen. The Game isn’t the only one bangin’ words on the wesside. 3.75/5 Bibles.