Another week goes by and we’re rollin’ out! Creeping through speakers is usually Top 40 because I’m too lazy to transfer music into my iPod. Well, it’s not only Top 40 but R&B jams. Blah, blah, blah, it’s all the same hyperbole I’m spitting here, nothing different from any other time. This week there’s a lot to take in. Let the weekend roll in now!
It’s not difficult to assess an artist’s ability to mutate & evolve when so many releases are split, either collaborating with a producer or another emcee. Los Angeles wordsmith Gajah has blurred lines of varying sounds allowing his words to do that here, with Mute Speaker who lives on opposite ends of the world in Cambodia. While the two have worked together in the past on previous albums, there’s an obvious growth with VENT (The Order Label.) Sometimes hard pressed to find faultlines within the tectonic plates of music, it’s no different here. It’s easy to find the addictiveness of “Collar Green (feat. A. Billi Free & Beond)” as Gajah quick-tongued words run circles around Mute Speaker’s beat, with hypnotic beats cascading throughout the atmosphere. Beond’s volleys his words aside those of Gajah, while A. Billi Free’s background vocals are just fucking dope! Her words add the perfect amount of estrogen to their testosterone, sometimes overshadowing the boys.
Mute Speaker seems to streamline his beats, giving them a varying feel yet remaining similar and distinctive. His go-around on “Bottle In The Sea (feat. Oso Negro)” has its catchy bounce and deep bass line which you can’t help but head nod to, as the backdrop on “Rounds” fits the imagery of alcoholism. And then there’s the unexpected on “Killing Em Kindly (feat. 2Mex, Woar2)” and those who know are aware just about anything with 2Mex alone is worth its weight in gold. And here, all three rappers take an unrelenting beat and rip right through the wall of sound spitting verbiage that equals its sonic explosiveness. Gajah doesn’t seem to be one to linger in self-misery, instead, releasing it into song. “Bad Plan” takes his mistakes, puts pen to paper, spits it out, crumples up loose sheets, and starts over. The obvious solution only to move forward. But it’s “Wasting Time (feat. A. Billi Free)” that could hit home for most, as many work 9-5’s as work kills dreams. Slowly. Ok, again, move forward or wallow in self-doubt and pity. A. Billi Free’s words, “It’s hard to pursue when you’re wasting so much time” says it all here. Damn, does he VENT? Yeah, he does. Time to reassess and move forward. For all of us.
It comes as no surprise to see the self-release by JustUs (Respect The Underground), an independent emcee & cultural stalwart intent on showcasing not only his own music but that of everyone around him that’s putting in the work for it. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Originally cutting his teeth with Cut Throat Logic, one seminal AZ Hip-Hop outfit that made its mark for a decade and a half. With the release of his debut solo release, things probably won’t be the same. Compiled with only 9 tracks you’ll understand not much else is needed here as the songs here span a range of emotions and energy levels.
Opening the album is “Don’t Wait for Me,” filled with an urging melancholy that forces you to hit the repeat button time and time again. The thick steady beat sets the mood as the raspy vocal delivery drops thunderous words, with metaphoric prowess and edgy lyricism. When he spits words like “I cut the grass and the rats & the snakes will flee / the dream is free, the hustle’s sold separately,” it gives a clear distinction on the point itself. And when he says, “I’m really in the field just to feed four children / on a mission for a million, change the world I live in,” the everyman sentiment is something anyone and everyone should be able to relate to. On “Big Homie” there’s an odd charm with the bass-heavy beat where he shares the mic with Bookie, an emcee whose laidback delivery fits glove-like taking the top spot next to JustUs. While the two emcees take nothing light, “The Boogie” takes a different route where he finds himself alongside the likes of Bag Of Tricks Cat. The duo takes a much more amusing route with this one here, playing with a musical format from days past, volleying lyricism back and forth, with tall tales of cannabis. It’s easy to get sucked right into the past, falling into a smokey speakeasy where pupils are only able to focus in black & white. On “Chain Gang” he aligns himself with Terrorist Angel Babies From Neptune, a trio of misfit rappers, better than your mom’s favorite emcee. But you’re quickly slapped back into reality with “The Resume (Interlude)” where JustUs takes on the haters and the hateful spitting venom as he does what everyone talks about doing. You’ll easily bob our head along to his “Crypto Currency” as you will on “Shine.” Both songs using that vocal modulation in full effect. He ends the way he begins with “Legends Never Die,” an ode to his own future legacy he’ll leave behind. There’s so much wrapped within here and you’ll find yourself listening past the witching hour as some of us have. You can dig it because it’s for the everyman, those that understand what it is to rep where one is from. JustUs does just that, with no apologies for it. And none needed.
The UK’s latest import, Miss World, the nom-de-plume of one Ms. Natalie Chahal, is here and there just might be a problem. It isn’t a problem in the sense that anyone should be worried, but more so that she just might be something to be reckoned with here. Her new album, Keeping Up With Miss World (PNKSLM) is a fucking anomaly! Never judge a book by its cover? I threw that idea right out the fucking window here, where I expected a low-key event maybe wrapped in a candy-coated shell of dance music. But this right here? That ain’t it. Instead, what we get is a sonic exploratory cacophony of beautiful pop music surrounded by a delectable amount of noisy guitar fuckery, clever songwriting, lo-fi/hi-fi recordings and Chahal’s easily agreeable vocals that are sugary sweet.
Miss World turns on the heat here and the opening “Diet Coke Head” is blasphemously good as it entangles tightly-knit guitar lines with overblown drums patterns that are perfect. But it’s Chahal’s harmonious voice that’s the main attraction here. Or is it the music? Whatever, it’s all one in the same as the beauty of everything melding together can easily melt metal like jet fuel apparently can. The song is repetitive but far from being repetitious. And she’s not afraid to use her voice like a modern-day Ronettes holding guitars instead of being backed by Phil Spector. But she’s not afraid to kick out the jams here. “Carb Yr Enthusiasm” brings the lower end to the surface with deep, guttural guitar notes as “(U Watch My) Stories (But U Don’t Like My Posts)” sounds familiarly like a possible take on a Semisonic song, or rather, the Semisonic song. While it’s obviously not purposeful, I’m sure the band could turn the songs here into the middle of the road hits that would land them back on the charts again. But I digress. That’s saying so much for Miss World who should be able to do it on her own while keeping all the gorgeous nuances within the tracks.
Miss World is punk rock but it seems she’s going to need the world to catch up with her here. The tracks are so sweet but also driving with more than just a punk enthusiasm. Keeping Up With Miss World is what punk should and can be; taking all the best parts of melody and harmony, and allowing dirty instrumentation to seep into it. It’s charming, beautiful and kicks ass all at the same time. You can only love this album, which is added as one of my favorites this year. Hell yes!
To consider this a “super-group” of sorts would mean you’d probably need to know who the members of Constant Lovers are. Right? Well, the only thing I know about the band members have been a part of Helms Alee (guitarist/vocalist Ben Verellen on drums), Damien Jurado, Harkonen, and Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive To Death. This isn’t the band’s first go-around though, with two other albums already under their respective belts. Why does this matter? Well, it really doesn’t but it’s allowed me to go in ham on the band to listen to its older material. I’m never afraid to say this is the first time ever hearing of the band but who’s a happy camper? This guy right here with two thumbs!
It probably wouldn’t mean much to the average listener but if there was a “sound” the band encompassed, like labels were once known for having, Constant Lovers cross multiple barriers. There’s the experimental aspect some early 80s – 90s labels were known to have for some bands, while others mined oblivious sonics the groups created under their banner. But today if Constant Lovers were on a label, they’d probably fit in fine with Mike Patton’s stable of artists. But you get it? There’s no singular classification anyone can or should put the Lovers’ Pangs under. It’s a strange and fantastic journey the band is on. Listening to “Meow Meow Meow” alone, it encompasses everything I previously mentioned. The band holds a high regard for making things enjoyable but odd, catchy yet ready for an experimental journey, and just downright challenging. But buckle up because the longer you stay on the ride, the better off you’ll be rather than listening to your classic rock radio station. Dissonance abounds as the fruit flies circle “Ceiling Sweats” while “It’s Electric” edges on the brink of falling apart through repetition but it’s unrelenting! They do take a much more direct approach with “Know the Knot,” and the harmonies cooing in the background perfectly fit along that pummeling rhythm. But when you get to “Amuse Bouche,” that’s the moment where you’ll realize what you’ve been missing for so long as the harmonics creep back and forth throughout, and the band milks it for all its worth. It’s hard not to enjoy sonic sculptures that leave conventionality right outside the door because you know, how much fun can you have with that when you can create Pangs? I’m all for straying far from the norm which is what the Constant Lovers do.
The scales aren’t balanced. I’ve said it often though: There aren’t enough women in Hip-Hop, which is filled with way too much testosterone. That’s within mainstream culture and underground. But I’m stating the obvious. But every decade or so there will be a small surge of artists to break through that wall of testosterone and as of late there have been a few women making a mark from a grassroots level. We have the likes of Moor Mother, Sammus, and the Orlando native E-Turn who’s just released her third full-length album Young World (Fake Four Inc.) Her words and music stand out as she strays from non-sensical lyricism, opting for something much more meaningful, inviting, and optimistic. Her multicultural background allows her to bring her view from a much wider perspective, dropping more conscious-infused lyrics than one might initially think.
With her intro “Young World,” the perspective for a failed American future is underlying in the sampled comment before she explodes on “Not Me,” referencing her cultural background and pushing forward in her own fight, holding onto that beat for dear life, letting it go, and coming right back to it. But then it’s on “Being About It” where she’s not afraid to ride the rhythm for a track that’s more melodic and catchy AF! If comparisons need to be made, I’m sure she’d be able to match Chris Rivers rhyme form rhyme, word for word. And that’s not such an easy task to accomplish when rapping about focus over such a dope beat. What I’m favoring here is E-Turn’s quick-tongued delivery like on “Makeshift,” as well as her ability to push a track’s melody to the limit, must like “Listen.” She seems to find a balance between a melodic soulstress and a dope emcee. She spits barbs alongside Myka 9 on “Peas” where both rappers have cadences that work easily next to one another. Two peas in a pod that are able to make an explosive track without raising their voices. E-Turn makes Young World such a pleasant ride from beginning to end. You may not even realize she’s teaching you something at the same time, but when you realize it, you’ll be forced to pay attention again and again. That’s one of the markings of a true artist.