DJ SHADOW / APATHY / ILL BILL [#GeekSwag Reviews]: Handsnakes With…

DJ SHADOW - The Mountain Will Fall - Released: 6/24/16
DJ SHADOWThe Mountain Will Fall – Released: 6/24/16
"Divine" Derek VIgeant @uncledarryl37
“Divine” Derek VIgeant

Although DJ Shadow has partnered up with Cut Chemist to do a tour celebrating a Tribute to Afrika Bambaataa, it’s been 5-years since his last original solo album. So unlock the gates because the new vinyl is upon us and The Mountain Will Fall!

After the emcee-heavy The Outsider (2006) and his more energized, adrenaline-fueled The Less You Know, The Better (2011), Shadow has shot back to his early days of just putting together some solid beats accompanied with some grooving sounds. The difference, this time around, is the dark and nebulous feel of The Mountain; it feels almost like a misguided trip through a cave to “parts unknown”–such as Three Ralphs and Suicide Pact. The majority of the tracks, though, are chill melodies that you can bob your head to while driving the longest road watching the sun go down.

But don’t fret, sons; there’s still some pump-your-fist-and-jump tracks, such as “Nobody Speak” (feat. Mass Appeal labelmates Run the Jewels), which was first performed at this year’s Coachella Music Festival, and “The Sideshow” (feat. Ernie Fresh), which is one of the most standout tracks. The joint has Shadows’ historic slicing and scratching licks with an onslaught attack of lyrics by Fresh.

The only drawback to this record, overall? There’s actually just not enough. Almost every single track clocks in at under 5-minutes — atypical of Shadow — finishing off just as it really finds its groove. Although I’m a bigger fan of Shadow’s more thunderous, harder drums and swiftly-paced beat changeups, I still find plenty of The Mountain to enjoy. Although quite immensely, a certain mood and mind-state may be required this time around over the anytime-is-fine play of his early joints. 4.25/5 Entrobibles

APATHY - Handshakes With Snakes - Released: 6/10/16
APATHYHandshakes With Snakes – Released: 6/10/16
"Monsignor" Travis Moody @travmoody
“Monsignor” Travis Moody

A few things worthy of note real quick before I get into this review. 1.) It’s been awfully hard trying to figure out, between 3001: A Laced Odyssey, Lead Poison, and The Impossible Kid, which hip-hop album has been the best I’ve heard so far this year, 2.) Handshakes With Snakes might be the most “#GeekSwag” album I’ve heard all year (i.e. shitloads of popular geek culture references in the music) despite the fact Apathy told me a few years ago at a Demigodz show in Chinatown, Los Angeles that he “wasn’t the one” to have Star Wars references in his songs. OK, Ap; you can’t fool the former “Loose Cannon” now, not after this joint.

Thankfully non-geeks, true hip-hop heads, blunt tokers, 40 oz. sippers, and just about anyone who doesn’t have a slithering cobra up their behind is going to enjoy the fuck outta Ap’s 5th studio LP. I’ve known the guy since his early days in the Providence and Boston underground hip-hop circuit (we talkin’ late 90s, breh), and to think he’s still pouring out lyrics, lyrics, lyrics after all these years is quite the feat. The AOTP/Demigod spitter has always been a fan of the mainstream agility of Jigga Man, so it’s great to hear him warn n00bz on the LP’s opener “Pay Your Dues” (featuring a resung hook from Phil Collins’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” and a swift piano break from “The Bridge is Over”), with a Jason Voorhees shout and.. {{{hold the phone!}}}.. “we used to walk up into party like Jedi knights”.

Yeah, thought so.

“Amon RAW” namedrops the Juggernaut, Hobgoblin, and spits one of the hottest #GeekSwag lines of the year: “I got a toxic ass canister poppin’/ and fans hoppin’/ out the windows at shows like death is the only option / Y’all don’t wanna sit quietly and observe/ this comic book nerd who got a loaded Mossberg” and goes even further than George Lucas with a reference to a certain warlike humanoid alien species from Star Trek, with an unbelievable verse from Ap’s usual partner-n-crime Celph Titled. “Rap is Not Pop” carries more of the same industry weight as the opener, with a druid ref hidden in between a smoking multisyllabic attack over illuminating keys and a mesmerizing drum pattern. By the way, Apathy (much like Aesop Rock on that other awesome self-produced album this year), produces Handshakes in its entirety to exceptional results.

Another gift is the album’s guest appearances, which, while entirely fantastic, don’t take away from Apathy’s bars and actually make sense thematically. Seeing how Ap and O.C. have a forthcoming collabo in the works, it’s nice to see the two exchange profound #geekswaggery on a pair (“Don’t Touch That Dial”, with rhyme legend Ras Kass–another guy I’ve been dying for Apathy to work with–and “Run For Your Life”), with Ap “the Human Torch/ Flames flicker on my spin/ covered in pins like Hellraiser, my sins/ are far too numerous, let’s just say that I’m fucked/ I’m on a highway to hell inside a gasoline truck” and O.C.’s “starter pistol rang and his feet left the blocks via Flash, Jay Garrick on rapper’s songs I blur.” Omar Credle also namedrops the Green Lantern while Ap mentions Electro on the funky, nearly 70s blaxploitated latter track.

Apathy also manages to make a song titled “Charlie Brown” (with Oh No and a Nate Dogg-meets-DV Alias Khrist sounding crooner named Kappa Gamma) sound sci-fi, with plenty of analogous lyrics that compare his style–both rapping and dating–to that of another dimension (even Quaser is mentioned). I’m really enjoying how the emcee/producer uses metaphorical pop culture to shadow his industry commentary; it’s the far more admirable show-don’t-tell method a lot of pop-hating indie rappers fail to use. With that said, maybe the only track I wasn’t wowed by on the whole record was “Blow Ya Head Off”. While Ap kills it (of course), the track would have served better on a mixtape with its pair of just decent guest spots and monotonous piano backdrop. “Attention Deficit Disorder” and “Moses” (with Bun B and Twista!) showcase Ap at his flowingly finest, ripping the most clean and concise rhymes you’ll ever hear in the double-time; even the former manages to tell an interesting story despite the tremendous speed and lack of drums, and the latter sounds like a track the RZA wishes he could still produce.

“Maybe I just play too much Xbox/ classic competition like the Yankees and Red Sox.” Seriously, those are not my lyrics; but it’s almost like Ap is speaking for me. And, yeah, geeks, “No Such Thing” has outstanding Jabba the Hutt and Ghost Rider rhymes. “Pieces of Eight (Give Up the Ship)” would sound right at home with New England vidyagame Fallout 4‘s “Far Harbor”, while the closing title track will take listeners to the ganja-filled tropics of Mexico and the tight raps of a pair of Soul Assassins, Sick Jacken and some guy named B-Real.

Look, nerds… my original intent of reviewing this record was the usual quick 2-paragraph opinion piece–until I was instantly poisoned by my own ear of Apathetic analysis. Handshakes With Snakes is undoubtedly, after several afternoon listens, gym sessions and long drives to the Bay and Vegas, the finest hip-hop album of 2016’s first half. Better, the LP clearly erases all previous notions that Apathy is a “mixtape and guest appearance” rapper. Truth: he’s an incredibly accomplished emcee and producer who now has a certified classic under his belt… with plenty more daps and handshakes coming along the way. 4.5/5 Bibles.

ILL BILL - Septagram - Released: 6/10/16
ILL BILLSeptagram – Released: 6/10/16
Kevin "Pastor" Palma @eggrollko
Kevin “Pastor” Palma

As someone who critiques art in a public forum, I’m occasionally forced to face my own subjective bias to a certain extent. Previously on this site, I’ve criticized both comics and hip-hop albums for being just more of the same from an artist. However, while Septagram is par for the course for Ill Bill, I still enjoy it greatly. Anybody who’s heard an Ill Bill album before (or really any of the major East Coast underground artists of the early-mid 2000’s) knows exactly what they’ll be getting here. For those who aren’t familiar, Bill’s lyrics are socially conscious as he rides keyboard bass heavy beats to perfection.

On Septagram, the Non Phixion and La Coka Nostra member’s 5th album, he does have more guest appearances than usual, even plenty of Gore-Tex and Q-Unique(!!), but everyone complements his style well; the most welcome additions, though, are fellow LCN pal Slaine and Lawrence Arnell, with both seeing a blazer from JMT in-house beatmaker, C-Lance (Enemy Soil).

Bill also seems to be less socially critical and angry and more socially observant while he has fun, which is a nice slight change, but also makes me prefer many of his other albums. Also, rather perfectly, this album is loaded with geeky references, including a weird-but-cool Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. line, and production fro MoSS that strangely sounds a ton like MF DOOM (hey–I ain’t mad at it!). All in all, Septagram is another bloody good album from Ill Bill that’s worth adding to the hip-hop collection. 4/5 Bibles.

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