For Those Who Can't Sleep On Hip Hop

True Hip Hop fans have been waiting for a certain type of emcee to emerge. He would possess an almost supernatural amount of energy, have a superior delivery on the mic and also be able to create songs of varying subject matter, without neglecting the importance of high quality production. Logic’s debut album “Under Pressure” is proof that he’s the artist to fill that void. The fifteen song collection provides a perfect showcase for an emerging superstar destined for greatness.

In the “Intro,” Logic assures listeners that content holds more value to him than making a quick buck when he states,”But I’m not defined by the sales of my first week/ ’cause in my mind the only way I fail is if my verse weak.” The track contains minimal production and gives off the kind of vibe that will make you feel both nostalgic and uplifted…A triumphant way to kick off the album. From there we hear a “Midnight Marauders” type of automated voice named Thalia guide us into the musical magnificence to follow.

“Soul FooD” begins with mellow reflections of pain and suffering among family and friends. Drugs, crime & eviction were all part of the game growing up in Gaithersburg. The clever line “I’m from Maryland, where they shoot you in the dark of the night like Christopher Nolan for talking out of your colon” sums it up. Midway through, Thalia interrupts the proceedings by announcing “Hip Hop.” The beat dramatically shifts to an aggressive soundscape with Logic boldly declaring his lyrical supremacy through a powerful flurry of rhymes. He’s determined to win! “I’m Gone” features the rapper flowing over quiet storm harmonizing and funky, erratic beats while “Gang Related” paints a dark portrait of the violent streets and the hope that Logic’s younger brother doesn’t get caught up in the chaos.

“Buried Alive” finds the rapper questioning stardom and the hunger for fame that consumes our culture. Once again, lyrical content and musical production shine through to create a strong and instantly memorable song. “Bounce” flaunts an intentionally muddy aural back drop with plenty of beats and rhymes to keep you, well…bouncing, with “Growing Pains III” rattling off vivid descriptions of Section 8 life filled with darkness and despair. For a moment, things appear to change for the better when the MC becomes absorbed in a “Leave It To Beaver” styled-sitcom. Unfortunately, reality intrudes with Logic snapping out of his reverie to find himself back in “hell.”

“Never Enough” is a song about excess. Money, sex & drugs all come easy when you’re living the high life. “Metropolis” features another chill groove with Logic reminiscing about the time he spent in Chicago. Other cities come into play as he tours Europe and each one has a specific highlight worth remembering. The track ends with him flirting and discussing Tarantino movies with a girl on a train. It’s a musical paradise.

“Nikki” is about Logic’s love for…nicotine. He loves his “girl” even though it’s slowly killing him. The title track “Under Pressure” is a colossal frenzy of rhymes, samples and high-powered excitement. “Till The End” is incredible! Musically there’s so much going on(piano, chants, soulful chords, harmonizing, hot beats and of course, Logic’s impressive rhyme skills)that your senses will be flooded with an overdrive of excitement. The powerhouse emcee KNOWS he hit it out of the park & his record label better realize it too(“Tell Def Jam if they don’t cut the check I’ll send Chris to go cut they neck/ I love the building no disrespect but y’all better ride when I’m in effect). Shout out to Senior VP of Marketing, Chris Atlas for recognizing and promoting REAL talent.

All of the above tracks are enough to leave any listener satisfied, BUT those who purchase the Deluxe Edition get a few added treats. “Driving Ms Daisy”(feat. Childish Gambino)showcases the two mic masters flowing over a funky track with colorful production. “Now” is a hard-hitting club banger that sounds like it would cause mass destruction to speakers and amps everywhere while “Alright”(feat. Big Sean)highlights the duo rhyming over a drunken, woozy track that reaffirms their lyrical skills.

“Under Pressure” isn’t a good debut…It’s a GREAT one. Logic deserves much praise for his material. Once the world hears what he has to offer, this star in the making is sure to be rewarded.

– Kevin Keith

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DJ Quik has always been an artist listeners could rely on for a level of musical excellence few others can attain. I’m pleased to announce that he continues the tradition of releasing quality material to the masses with the arrival of “The Midnight Life,” a funky platter of hits destined for constant rotation in the clubs, on radio or when kicking back at home.

The “Intro” opens up with two homies on the block trying to figure out how Hip Hop can blow up again. When one of them visits DJ Quik and poses the question to him, he boldly states: “Hip Hop? I think Hip Hop need a banjo in it.” Quik’s stunned visitor thanks him for the insight, quickly rushes out and then laughs about the incident with his friend. Needless to say, “That Nigga’z Crazy” launches into a banjo-ridden, funk-laden tour de force of sound unlike anything ever heard before. “Back That Sh*t Up(feat. Tay F 3rd & David Blake II)features smooth flows over an even smoother groove. Quik is clearly having fun & you can feel the joy in the music.

“Trapped On The Tracks” (ft. Bishop Lamont & David Blake II) begins with the sound of a speeding locomotive combined with the funkiest hook & beat this writer has heard in a long time. Each emcee rips through the track with unparalleled skill and precision. This leads to “El’s Interlude 2,”(ft. the legendary El Debarge) which serves as a soulful set up for the incredible “Puffin The Dragon.” The musical mastermind laments on life in the spotlight as basslines, synth stabs and beats all fall into place around his quick-witted rhymes. Quik should teach a Master Class in production. In a perfect world this would be the song to receive tons of awards and accolades come Grammy night. Let’s hope perfection can be achieved.

“Pet Semetary” begins with a sarcastic musing about the death of Hip Hop and R & B. Of course Quik easily dismisses that notion when the song jump starts into action. “Life Jacket”(feat. Suga Free & Dom Kennedy)gives us that early 80’s James Mtume(“Juicy Fruit”)type of funk we can’t get enough of and “That Getter”(ft. David Blake II)provides a moody journey through the neighborhood & the discipline required to overcome the haters. “The Conduct”(ft. Mack 10)brings back that Roger Troutman Zapp style funk that is often misused in today’s auto-tune heavy industry. That sound becomes merged with a funk rock riff that pushes the track over the top.

“Shine”(ft. David Blake II)flaunts a laid back tempo that complements David Blake’s “no worries” vocal flow. “Bacon’s Groove”(ft. Rob “Fonksta” Bacon)is the ultimate midday “chillout” instrumental or late night musical aphrodisiac. It’s a testament to Quik and Rob’s genius that the song works on both levels. “Broken Down”(ft. Suga Free & Tweed Cadillac)is both unbelievably funky and laugh out loud hilarious! Sample this line from Tweed Cadillac: “Man, y’all rap cats funny/I’m Fred G Sanford y’all big old dummies…” The bouncy beat & keyboard chords will instantly make you smile. Simply put, this track is FANTASTIC! Instead of winding down, Quik hits us with more heat on “Why’d You Have To Lie.” We feel soul singer Joi’s pain as she sings about her man’s infidelity over slinky, mechanical production. “F*ck All Night” allows Quik to get his musical freak on as the lush melodies lead us to the album’s closer “Quik’s Groove 9″ which feature the amazing musician jamming his way into the sunset.

After 9 albums, DJ Quik is just as hungry and determined to win as he was when he started. Don’t be fooled if he tells you otherwise. But you don’t have to take my word for it. One listen to “The Midnight Life” and you’ll know for sure that DJ Quik is unstoppable.

– Kevin Keith

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The Game has been building up to his latest project, “Blood Moon: Year of The Wolf” with assorted tracks and videos for so long that it’s hard to believe that the album is finally here. Then again, he did say it was the YEAR of the wolf…so maintaining a choke hold over 2014 was definitely a priority.

“Bigger Than Me” sets things off with Game threatening to chainsaw a wolf and proclaiming that none of the new rappers coming up in the industry can match his verbal skills and lyrical dexterity. “F.U.N.” reinforces how dismissive the emcee is about anyone who steps to him. Rob you or kill you…Nothing’s getting in his way. “Really”(ft. Yo Gotti, 2 Chainz, Soulja Boy & T.I.) isn’t just a posse cut. It’s more like Hip Hop Armageddon with bloodthirsty, aggressive rhymes & a beat that pimp slaps the listener into submission.

“Fuck Your Feelings”(ft. Lil’ Wayne & Chris Brown) is all auto-tune and synthesizers…but wait…It works! If you’re having a bad day at work, going through baby mama drama or just feelin’ some type of way, THIS will be the song you keep on repeat…’Promise! “On One”(ft. King Marie & Ty Dolla $ign) is strictly for the clubs. The Game flows nicely on the track but it’s his way of taking a breather before launching into “Married to The Game”(ft. French Montana, Dubb & Sam Hook)an intense production smoothed out by an R & B hook. “The Purge”(ft. Stacy Barth) centers around Game’s meditation on life and his desire to rid the world of its injustices. “Trouble on My Mind”(ft. Dubb, Jake, Papa)utilizes a folksy type of hook and spare production elements to full effect while “Cellphone”(ft. Dubb)wins with triumphant horns and powerful rhymes.

“Best Head Ever”(ft. Tyga & Eric Bellinger)is self explanatory. It’s another club joint that focuses more on flow than content. “Or Nah”(ft. Too Short, Problem & AV)is a fun party jam with DJ Mustard on the beat. “Take That”(ft. Tyga & Pharaoh Prophet)” is the perfect strip club song with R & B vocals overshadowing a minimal amount of rhyming. “Food For My Stomach”(feat. Dubb & Skeme)gives a nod to the cinematic sound favored by DJ Khaled & Cash Money while “Hit ‘Em Hard(ft. Bobby Shmurda)brings hardcore to the dance floor. The final track, “Black On Black”(ft. Young Jeezy & Kevin Gates)begins with Game rhyming about how he’ll do anything for his daughter & ends with the both of them walking home, unfazed by the wolf howling in the distance.

For those who pick up the deluxe edition, “Mad Flows”(ft. Skeme)is mainly a throwaway track. It serves up standard rhyming over uninventive production. “Bloody Moon” is a compelling tale of loss and horrific incidents revolving around a “father” in name only. It’s a song that truly needs to be heard and discussed. “I Just Wanna Be”(ft. Stat Quo, SAP & King Marie)rounds out the collection. It’s a strong way to close the album & creates a mood of hope in the midst of darkness & despair relayed from earlier tracks. The album as a whole is well done. The only criticism comes from the fact that there are more features on the songs than verses from The Game himself. However, it’s admirable that the MC allows others to shine. He can afford to, because the talent Game possesses will keep us listening for years to come.

– Kevin Keith

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Big Apple Blues CD Cover


The Tomás Doncker Band & Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet Yusef Komunyakaa join forces to bring listeners an astounding sonic masterpiece called “Big Apple Blues.” The title song announces itself as loudly as possible before settling into a mellow, laid back vibe. Tomás’ vocals betray the false serenity by exposing secret glimpses of pain and suffering. The band then takes us on a musical journey “with Basquiat for company.” “Can’t Say No” launches into phenomenal drum work by Mike Faulkner and is further enhanced by David Barnes’ spectacular harmonica playing. “The New Day” slows the pace down, with Tomás’ powerful vocals once again serving as centerpiece to the action. Doncker and James Dellatacoma excel on guitar and you will never hear background vocals as beautifully arranged as they are on this particular selection.

“Hellfighters Of Harlem” is a funky jam session that brings Yusef to the forefront as he reflects on the days of Jim Crow and “the brothers fighting overseas.” “At This Midnight Hour” gives listeners that slow blues drag that sounds especially great at…midnight. It conjures up images of seedy bars and dark alley ways. The band paints a picture with every note.

“Little Blue Room” could be mistaken for yet another sad, love song with lyrics about crying and being kicked in the heart one too many times…but the upbeat instrumentation transforms the track into something that’s actually humorous. It could easily be envisioned as the musical equivalent of a Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin movie in which the comic hero bumbles into one unfortunate event after another. Listeners don’t need to worry though. With a band like this, Tomás Doncker always comes out on top.

“Coney Island” is a breezy, carefree tune about the famed amusement park. “That Horse” soars with a fun, country and western vibe. “Ground Zero” hits with a harder edge and more somber tone while “Fun City” is pushed over the top by Mike Faulkner’s fabulous horn-playing. The entire band work so well together that it is easy to determine why the music sounds so amazing. Tomás, Yusef & the musicians mentioned earlier, along with the incredible Nick Rolfe(Keyboards) and Alan Grubner(Strings), made this project a huge success. The songs will resonate deeply with the listeners. “Big Apple Blues” is a musical treasure.

– Kevin Keith

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Many rappers think that all you have to do to make a hit album is slap together 16 filler tracks with 2 radio ready tunes & wait for the money to come rolling in. Vince Staples, on the other hand, realized that quality is more important than quantity. That’s why the 7 tracks on his “Hell Can Wait” EP make the Long Beach emcee stand out from his less talented hip hop peers.

The project begins with the dark and intense “Fire.” Vince describes the horror of his neighborhood while constantly chanting “I’m probably fin’ to go to hell anyway” over a murky, disturbing groove. “65 Hunnid” starts with mellow piano keys and mournful horns that seem more compatible with a Ken Burns Jazz documentary than a hip hop song. Once Vince launches into his first verse everything falls into place. The listener absorbs the vibe of a knowing youth who was forced to grow up fast or fall prey to his hostile, unforgiving environment. “Screen Door” finds Vince reflecting about his father’s involvement in the drug game and the sad yet predictable outcome of illegal activities that were building to a head. All of this is done over a spare, stripped down track that propels the story forward.

“Hands Up”(produced by No ID) is more uptempo than the previous track…slightly. Vince rhymes about the police and street life over a cacophony of noises familiar to anyone who has experienced the disgust and humiliation of being racially profiled. “Blue Suede” brings an immediate sense of urgency to the party with its piercing sirens, reverse beats and filtered vocals. “Limos” begins like any other syrupy hip hop/ R&B love song, but Vince quickly shuts that down with “Bitches think they livin’ in a dream ’til I wake ‘em up…and “Feelin The Love” brings the EP to a close over a loopy, stop-start beat as Vince prays for forgiveness for his sins when his life is done. Overall, this is an impressive major label debut for Vince Staples. Mind you, it’s not nearly as powerful as his Shyne Coldchain mixtapes, but Vince will be here for a long while, so he’s just getting started.

– Kevin Keith

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