Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Skillz – The Million Dollar Backpack - @@@

With each passing year our culture thrives off of a need for fresh faces bringing novelty to the game and in 2008 for every act like Common who has maintained relevance since the early-mid 90’s, you can find four Black Moons struggling to hold on. [Formerly Mad] Skillz finds himself in just this position having had bad luck battling the corporate machine, as he’s faced obstacles like his debut From Where??? hitting stores the same day as seminal releases All Eyez On Me and The Score, and cutting deals with Rawkus Records & Timbaland that went nowhere just to name a few setbacks. After questionable career moves like entertaining a serious rap battle with Shaquille O’Neal and relegating himself to a role combining those of Peter Jennings and Dick Clark with his annual "Rap Up" series, Skillz has finally shifted his focus back to recording albums. His official sophomore release The Million Dollar Backpack is an artistic vision of caking up while simultaneously staying rooted in making music of substance.

Employing braggadocio is understandable as a process nearly as involuntary as blinking for a MC, and while anyone rapping should believe their shit bears no odor, Skillz comes off as cocksure to a fault. On the album’s opener “Where I Been” he opts to strut with “swag” rather than honestly detail the 11 year gap between his albums, while “Sick” is unoriginally reminiscent of Canibus’ antiquated “I been nice since…” raps and “Don’t Act Like You Don’t Know” featuring Freeway is a blatant bite of the guest star’s classic “What We Do”. Other low points include the uninspiring “So Far So Good”, his attempt at reaching women and clubs with “He Don’t Own Me”, and the bizarre “Crazy World” which would be better suited on a Broadway stage than a rap album. Infrequent celebratory moments come courtesy of stirring production from ?uestlove & James Poyser on “Hold Tight”, Bink’s “I’m Gon’ Make It” and “My Phone” which is still a PG rated rehashing of Biggie’s “Dreams”.

While some may give Skillz a pass for sounding “authentic” and having his heart in the right place, The Million Dollar Backpack finds him running Hip-Hop’s omnipresent risk of falling victim to one’s own hype. His essence is comprised of stale battle raps and a self-assured confidence that he assumedly believes will capture the hearts of the masses, ultimately finding him uninteresting with little new to say.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Spotlight on Shawn Jackson

I dont know much other than he's from the West coast and his album First Of All... has ample heat on it. He kind of reminds me of MCs from Detroit and his beats knock.

Fix Ya Face
Gold Medal Kids
Go There With You

Shawn Jackson on Myspace

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Nas - Untitled - @@@ 1/2

As Hip-Hop’s culture is rife with the theme of party and bullshit, art reflecting and responding to troubling times [a la Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On] is a rarity. While Nas is to be lauded as the primary MC taking a public stance on current events through major label music, he has run the risk of being considered an ambulance chaser of sorts with 2006’s Hip-Hop Is Dead campaign and the sudden rallying cry around the impact of the word nigger [to be assumed in lieu of the recent Don Imus/Michael Richards debacles]. His latest album now Untitled finds his sights set on the grand task of carrying four centuries worth of racial injustice on his back.

Coming as no surprise to his harshest of critics, Nas means well but he doesn’t quite execute in fully fleshing out his concept. The highlights include the promising "You Cant Stop Us Now" which leads off the album as a brief history of black life throughout the ages detailing everything from colonialism to the modern day persecution of Michael Vick, "Sly Fox" taking Rupert Murdoch's conglomerate to task, and Toomp (producer of Kanye West's "Big Brother", Jay-Z's "Say Hello", and T.I.'s "What You Know About That") delivering one of his standard cinematic centerpieces with "N.I.G.G.E.R. (The Slave And The Master)". Unfortunately the moments of focus are far and few in between as the album seems semi-autobiographical with songs like "Breathe" talking about how far he's come in his career, “Make The World Go Around” sounding like an "Esco" era Nastradamus outtake and the overproduced [by Polow Da Don] self-celebratory “Hero”, not to mention “Louis Farrakhan” where Nas overstates his importance drawing a parallel between himself and the Muslim figurehead. Other questionably odd moments include "Fried Chicken", personifying soul food while espousing its virtues and recognizing its dangers, "We Are Not Alone" tying revolution to UFOs, and "Black President" capitalizing on Obama winning the Democratic seat while questioning the candidate's dedication to the black community.

Untitled may placate diehard Nas fans who pray for the return of a Queenbridge soldier barely out of puberty, but those who aren’t so easily impressed may spot figurative chinks in the album’s armor. Nas has always been able to map out exciting ideas while taking a thinking man’s approach to his craft, but if he is to continue creating pieces based around themes perhaps more emphasis should be placed into his final output than the buzz built around it.