It's funny to me how cats are putting out 'best of the year lists' right after Thanksgiving...the fuck are you, a supermarket shifting your holiday decorations stock? The year is 12 months long fam. It's also funny how anyone can claim their best of the year list is objective, because ain't no way you listened to ALL the records that came out this year, unless you're a brain in a jar or some shit.
Finally, it's funny to me, but also great, that Armand Hammer's Paraffin is making so many year-end lists, because I've been shouting about those cats literally all decade and no one was listening. Also because a lot of lists put them up next to Cardi B. (I'm still trying to parse what this means, but I don't wanna listen to Cardi B.)
I see a lot of these youngbloods firing off with no knowledge or respect for where hip hop came from, and that's fine, but they don't last. They come and go. You can't have light coming from everywhere. You need to learn the shadows. The gods who earn respect are those who master the basics, then go disco.
This year wasn't about best albums anyways. I like how y'all argue about what's an album, what's an EP, what's a mixtape--as if these things still existed. The best of this year was groups of projects, flexing musical range; and also projects that were whole, like an egg, perfect and cohesive from start to finish.
There were cats that released 31 albums this year; cats who dropped 300 songs. That's not range, that's industry. Elucid wins the year because of his range, the stretch of his output, and the growth in his art. There's cacophony, doom, prophecy, world-weariness, irony and resistance. Knowledge of all the Babylon A.D. tricks that RZA taught him in the vampire bar. He's the cat who can get you past the checkpoints, but a hero ain't nothing but a chopped cheese. Solo and teamed up with high calibre MCs and producers, these four releases were different powerful stones loaded into one iron mic. Chuck D wrote his messages billboard-and-protest-sign ready; Elucid, along with billy woods and milo, twist 'em up cryptic and secret, slip them into fortune cookies made of sandpaper and dark syrup. If I can make you really feel it, I won’t have to explain shit.
In the cold vein of February he dropped Shit Don't Rhyme No More, with the glimmer of hope in "Hyssop" and the O Superman, Blade Is On Drugs of "All of a Sudden We Were in a Vampire Bar." In June we got his collabo with Dumhi, no snakes allowed, with those Romare Bearden type beats. Hurricane summer brought the team up with milo for Nostrum Grocers: illuminated, a jazz cookout, two free-association masters in a cipher behind the cellar door. There's grace and peace here, shelter in the pervading menace of 2018 Amerikkka.
Last year's ROME saw Elucid and billy woods burn the empire; Paraffin throws more fuel on the fire. Only came back to tell 'em 'bout them fuckin' flames. As always, darker than midnight, deeper than Mariana, Finnegan-deep with the references--they'll drop Jenny Holzer, Killah Priest and Rumsfeld quotes all up in the same track ("Black Garlic"). 'No such thing as halfway crooks' be the mantra. '100 Miles & Running' be the treatise. I nominate 'Nature of the Threat' as the new Black national anthem. Woods' verses on "No Days Off," "Dettol" and "Fuhrman Tapes" are some of his best--service weapon in my face, all I could see was his lips chapped: that's some Richard Price shit right there. The beats picked from their deck of producers groan, corrode, wheeze, kick, vibrate, snap, fill the unframed sky. It's rightly tipped for album of the year all over. At some undisclosed location woods and Elucid have been anointed Rappers Most Likely To Be Sanctioned By Drone Strike.
The Metrocard machine asks you the big life question: what do you want to do? Do you want to add value? Or add time? You can't have both. The veil has been lifted, are you listening? You can only ride those rolling pages after you make that choice. Spare change for drugstore sushi?
There's that thing where movie franchises have a couple good ones at the beginning, then they reboot the whole thing and shitcan all the crappy sequels, like Halloween and hopefully Terminator. Actually Terminator Halloween is a pretty good description of what Muggs came back with this year. The dubstep record, the last bad Cypress Hill records--let's say they never happened. Muggs came back with some of his strongest, heaviest, ponderous and slamming beats across all three projects. Soul Assassins built G. Rap, Raekwon and DOOM dark cathedrals to preach in. You know that scene in Fear & Loathing where they're in the Circus Circus and can't get off the merry go round because they're too high? That's the lysergic big top Muggs Barnum'd up for Elephants. No one expected in 2018 to get a Cypress Hill record that's a true followup to IV, but there it is. Last but best, Kaos was Marci's best of his 2018 suite, rolling his whip down a dark road on the edge of town. Taking Marciano away from the cool, minimalist blaxploitation loops into Muggs' rave-beside-the-Ganges gave his rhymes a larger and sweeping quality, rallying the armies of dead homies.
Oh yeah, there was that exactly-two-songs Muggs x DOOM thing too, which was...released.
What Marci does is to reduce that old style gangsta/pimp shit to its essential elements and build it back up in small, sharp shards, carving with that essence, so every line could be an end-to-end burner or carved on a tombstone (yours, not his). It's Japanese calligraphy, each track a single character that says "Across 110th Street," painted with a musk-ox hair brush in blood (yours, not his) on Fendi mulberry paper while he's wearing a tangerine silk kimono and a bad bitch rubs his shoulders and makes him rare jasmine tea. There's an intense simplicity, a harmony and focus that charges every joint. It's velvet draped on concrete. It's a hand-tooled Mexican leather holster for a gold-plated .45 with mother-of-pearl inlaid handles. Cutting the garlic paper thin with a razor for those jailhouse meals type beats. It's Meditations on Pimpstaism. He slides into guest verses, drops bodies and slides out, assassin style. Comparisons with those he's influenced are pointless and spurious: "you can't compare a goldfish to Moby Dick."
I can't grasp why the fuck this was so slept on. It's a Shabazz Palaces side project that sounds like another dope-ass laser beam, electrogalacticfunk, zoned out neon glide Shabazz Palaces record. Everybody likes Shabazz Palaces, so what the fuck? Did the name confuse you idiots? Did it not show up in your goddamn Spotify algorithm? I bet it didn't show up in your fucking algorithm. Y'all got They Live'd up by that thing fam. I mean, I could understand if it sucked, if it was Ishmael Butler reading from his Big Book of Aliases over the sound of, I don't know, ketchup bottles emptying, but this record went Afrofuturist Space Disco Praxis Metastasis in the best way.
This one came outta nowhere on some crusty, heartfelt, spit-out-the-side-your-mouth, sipping cough syrup in the parking lot, one sweatpant leg rolled up, Parliaments tucked in the top of the tube sock. It's growly South, it's scrub brush and dirt weed, cracked pavements and yo open the window, that AC ain't working. There's something really wonky and weird about it I love, what the fuck kinda drugs they got down there fam? It comes from a place where you're sweaty and tired and the Devil is trying to hustle you into a new phone plan. It's a deep dive into personal struggle but with a fuck it, let's get down too, let's tag up on the moon.
Oh so now y'all down with Armand Hammer, that's cool and all, maybe you should check out another cat I been hyping for a few years that you still sleep on. SHIRT's still got that big heart, that hunger, that love for the game, the court, the gallery, the world. Baldessari's 'Pure Beauty' is text on canvas. SHIRT's text is written on pure energy. He's taken Baldessari's 'TERMS MOST USEFUL IN DESCRIBING CREATIVE WORKS OF ART' and infused his album with--all of them. Keeps on playing with the dreams. Do-rag in the MOMA--it's his time.
Canyons' album is light on its feet but not frothy; mellow but not narcoleptic; harmonic but not soft; it's got a Tribe/Native Tongues/Digable vibe but much more...French. It's introspective and imperturbably chill, but you and your girl could cut a rug to it. It has that old-wood, buttery tone. It's a record for that bar with the good pool table and live jazz and the bartender who knows what kind of scotch you like. It vibes. An accomplished, polished and complete work.
Ka once again cements his rep as the best writer in rap--and a great writer in any format. Calling himself Orpheus on this one isn't hubris: the name comes from the roots of slave, rebel, darkness, orphan. Like Roc Marciano, Ka knows street rap is the crafting of epics, of legends--honor and betrayal, heroes and monsters, journeys and battles. So the homie went Homeric, reached back to the Greek myths to infuse the struggles, and makes a whole album of contrast, metaphor, allusion and comparison. That golden fleece was North Face. That cyclops, a crooked cop. That weight on your shoulders? We're all Atlas out here son. Animoss' beats maybe don't grab me as much as Preservation's on Yen Lo or Ka's own on other joints, but they're lighter and bring the Harryhausen and Dionysus panpipes. It's another volume in Ka's discography that rewards close study and multiple listens. He's the poet, prophet and musician who went to hell and made it back. "Jinxed to be the man deciphers life riddle or get killed by the Sphinx."
The Greeks had two words for time: kronos, for quantitative time--hours, days, years--and kairos, meaning the right time. The right moment to convey the right message, with symmetry and balance--the moment to release the arrow so it'll hit the target. That's what Ka does. He knows that just because strippers know all the words to your song, it's just money on the clock. He writes for the ages.
9. The Griselda/Kuiper Belt
Once again, a swirl of cold ice rocks was way out there in the dark. The ratio of output-to-quality was down; bound to happen given the output, with WSG losing on Supreme Blah-intele and Really? Still With The Hitler Thing? Part 71. But there was a grip of loose bullets in all calibers; Conway stayed solid on Everybody is F.O.O.D. 1 & 2,Death By Misadventure with Sonny Jim and Untitled Drums with Imported Goodz. He's got the best luck or ear for beats in Griselda, and the world-weariness is one of the most earned ever--listen to him intone "cocaine paid my mama's bills" for thirty seconds straight on "Cocaine Paid"...it's not an adlib or a hook. It's a celebration, a hard fact, a regret, a disbelief in our wack economics.
I didn't ride for Benny's Tana Talk 3 as hard as everybody, but joints like "Rubber Bands & Weight" definitely brought that '94 Raekwon feel. Mach-Hommy kept putting in work with random asteroids peeling in from all directions...you can't possibly keep up with it, there's a vigilante mystique to that I like. Juju Gotti hooked up Dump Towers, a best-of his relentless output with Tha God Fahim that also goes for the unprecedented-for-those-guys low price of $11.11--definitely worth copping before they move the decimal point.
Legendary beatmaker Mumbles (A Book of Human Language) and Gone Beyond took hundreds of classical recordings of composers who lived under Stalin and created this incredible instrumental album. Their drumwork is complex and multilayered and they've taken the art of sampling to a new height, painting in winter watercolors with this bleak Soviet pallette. You gotta trust me on this. It's a work of beauty.
I know I said I retired and shit, whatever. This mix is a selection of some of the best joints of the year, the ones that go hardest, hottest stars in the firmament, where the light is coming from everywhere, all over the dogs, that fucking go disco.
And that's it. I did everything I set out to do. Time to do something else. All y'all got your weekly Spotify playlists now, and I can't rock no Joe Pesci samples behind those.
Cats used to ask me, 'how long you going to do this?' Until I'm finished. Like Skeme, I didn't start doing this to be on the radio or DJ a club or work for Complex, I came here to bomb.
Eleven years is enough. There's 120 mixes up on this site, give or take--I lost count. It's staying up until I can move it all over to elmattic.com.
I gave you what I gave you. I made you sway. I gave you noise. Lots of noise.
For 11 years, I've clattered by, but this old steel skeleton's outlived its usefulness. So the El is being torn down. I dappled the streets with shadows. I nearly touched the buildings and blotted out the sun. Things change, and the El is at the end of the line.
Destroy All Lines - Skeme / Thug's Prayer - Roc Marciano / You're Nobody Till Somebody Kills You (Original Version) - Notorious B.I.G. / The Game (Your Nobody Til' Somebody Kills You) - Nas / Heaven & Hell - Raekwon / Five Arch Angels (Instrumental) - 4th Disciple / Allah Sees Everything - Killarmy / Paradise - C-Rayz Walz / I'm Dead - Scarface / Final Count Of The Collision Between Us And The Damned - Public Enemy / The Final Call - Black Market Militia (feat. Abiodun Oyemole of The Last Poets) / Outro Beat - Super DJ Signify & Six Vicious / Kiss Of Death / Blink - Sonic Youth / Spiegel Im Spiegel (Dälek's Reflection Remix) - My Education / Great Day (Four Tet Remix) - DOOM / Dances With Death - Gone Beyond & Mumbles / Something I Can Never Have - Vitamin String Quartet / Friday Afternoons, Op. 7: Old Abram Brown - Choir of Downside School, Purley, Viola Tunnard & Benjamin Britten / SISTERS (OG drum version) - Odd Nosdam / Ghosts I/1 - NIN / White Room - 3:33 / Almost There - Killah Priest / The Bhagvad Gita / Years - Ka & Preservation / God Of Grace - Howard Hanger Trio / Good Night - billy woods / The End of The El / The 900 Number - DJ Mark The 45 King
Lost mix from 2008 I made exclusively for some German or Swedish or something mixtape website, I forget. Like all independent mix sites, it's long gone, and this one's a good one, so as we roll to the end of the road I thought I'd throw it out there.
I Need A Beat - LL Cool J / Beats & Pieces - Coldcut / Strong Beats From A Strong Man - DJ Mark the 45 King / The Perfect Beat - Talib Kweli (feat. KRS-One) / Jimmy's Bonus Beat - Jungle Brothers / Just A Beat - Eric B. / Master's Bonus Beats - Master O.C. & Krazy Eddie / Beats - DJ Shadow & DJ Krush / Bonus Beat - DJ Premier / Bonus Beat - RJD2 / Bonus Beats - Odd Nosdam / Beats Within - Spectre / Beataholic Reformatory - Ryu (feat. The Beat Knuckles) / Mary Break - Disrupt / Break - Saul Williams / Cowbell Break - Boiler Room Collective / Break That Break - Wu-Tang Clan / Break - Cut Chemist / Breaks - Rob Swift / The Break Witch Project - DJ Junk
Few years back I wrote about Killah Priest's Heavy Mental for Passion of the Weiss. The album turns twenty years old today, and I had a few extra thoughts on its extreme depths. It's easily in my top twenty all-time LPs.
What Priest is doing on Mental is a pan-cosmic mystagogy linking Biblical times and concrete jungles, Exodus and the Middle Passage. Salvation from the 4D holographic galaxy will only come through music.
Why does he say on ‘PriestHood’ “I’m having constant dreams I’m Constantine?” Or on 2007's "The Maccabees," drop a vision of JFK, Jesus and "a vision of Malcolm X/sitting at the Last Supper/Elijah passing the butter/I'm at the end of the table with my gat tucked up" and then "Romans rush in / I start busting." Because the Empire never ended.
On ‘B.I.B.L.E.,’ he says: "the white image of Christ is really Cesare Borgia, the second son of Pope Alexander." This theory—that our modern image of Jesus comes from a 15th century Italian nobleman's portrait (by da Vinci, no less)—gets kicked around a lot here and there, but doesn't have much historical basis. Not the point.
In medieval portraiture popes & aristocrats would have themselves inserted into Biblical scenes—here’s me cooling at the Crucifixion, here’s my wife the duchess suckling baby Jesus. Time travel selfie shit in oils. But this wasn’t just artistic license.
Benedict Anderson posits in Imagined Communities that people didn’t have a linear sense of time before newspapers—you were born in your village and shit was the same for your grandfather. It was all one thing. And in Auerbach’s ‘Figura,’ he illustrates all the times one person is a pre-figuration—a jataka tale—of another. Moses is a figura of Jesus. Or in another way, they are all the same. Everything is happening on repeat and at once. Nothing here now but the recordings.
See, those samples that lace Heavy Mental? Aside from 20 seconds of Judas from The Robe, they’re all from 1954’s The Egyptian.
The Egyptian is about a doctor who gets caught up in Pharoah Akhnaton’s effort to change Egypt’s religion from all those cat- and alligator-head gods into a monotheism around the sun and the ankh—the cross of life. Some say (including Freud) this is a figura of Judaism or Christianity—the movie ends with big letters saying “THESE THINGS HAPPENED THIRTEEN CENTURIES BEFORE THE BIRTH OF JESUS CHRIST."
And there’s others who think Akhnaton’s portrayal as a long-limbed, egg-shaped head dude means he was an alien. So an alien in 1300 BC was trying to start Christianity or at least its doctrines of pacifism and humanism. That’s some Killah Priest shit for real.
On a literal tip, there's increasing evidence from Einstein onwards that, in fact, time takes place all at once, and we only perceive it to be linear. It's a long-standing philosophical debate (since at least Taggart's B-theory of time), but in real (or at least theoretical) scientific terms, efforts to reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics, like the Wheeler-DeWitt equation, point towards the universe being a 4D block which we only experience as individual slices of 'now.'
So Priest is saying that it's one long story of bondage leading up to today, until we escape it—because it's all happening at the same time, that each element prefigures another. Where then, is escape from this time/space cube Cell Block 4D? Outside of time and space. What is outside of time and space? Music.
In Philip K Dick’s VALIS, Horselover Fat asks if the soon-to-be-born savior child is Christ returning, "or another one," i.e. a new cosmic redeemer. He gets the reply that:
"It's him again but not him; another one. There are many Buddhas, but only one. The key to understanding it is time...when you play a record a second time, do the musicians play the music a second time? If you play the music fifty times, do the musicians play the music fifty times?"
Dick spent his entire life probing the noosphere to find out what was behind our reality and how we could get to a better one. In 1974 he either went nuts or got zapped by a beam of pink light from an alien satellite and/or godhead. Either way he had a vision of a Golden Doorway and spent the rest of his life trying to get back to it. But there isn’t any way out of the physical world from the physical world. "We fall asleep," Priest says on 'Temple of the Mental,' "and they handcuff us in our dreams."
The Golden Doorway is heavy mental and Heavy Mental—and "the only time you could catch jet lag is if your cassette drag."
The problem with an eternal string of prefigured martyr-saviors is that they will always be martyred, right? As Burroughs says, "nothing here now but the recordings." So we have to sidestep. Into the Temple of the Mental. Stop the tape. STOP IT.
Crime & Punishment - Cyrus Tha Great (feat. Roc Marciano) / (Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below We're All Gonna Go - Curtis Mayfield / Illusory Protection (Instrumental) - DJ Muggs / Affair With A Gun - Lewis Parker / Gun For The Whole Family (Instrumental) - El-P / Gazzillion Ear (Thom Yorke Remix) - DOOM / Nihilism 2 - Tenshun / Ne pas - 6RME / Of Machines Humming - Gasoline Monk / Wonderbread - Danny Brown / Sticky Trap - Ratking / Crayon Ruins - Jean Grae / The Healer - Erykah Badu / Thief of Baghdad - Lee Erwin / Represent - Nas / Woman of the Ghetto - Marlena Shaw / Food Stamps - The 24 Carat Black / $ Cash Rules (Reprise) - Bronze Nazareth / Gang Fight/The Jungle Is a Skyscraper - Folkways/Ornette Coleman Quartet / New York Is Killing Me - Gil Scott-Heron (feat. Nas) / Marksmen - Roc Marciano (feat. Ka) / Robespierre -billy woods (feat. Barrie McLain) / The Meaning of the Name - Gang Starr / The Message from the Soul Sisters, Pts. 1 & 2 - Vicki Anderson
A Hustler's Soliloquy (Walkingshoe Remix) - Roc Marciano / Murder Game - Danny Brown (feat. Guilty Simpson) / The Badlands - Raekwon (feat. Ghostface Killah) / Simply Dope Part 2 - The 45 King / Maxine - Ghostface Killah / Clockers - billy woods / Pounds of Pressure - Mr. Lif / Black Roses - Bigg Jus / Life Ain't The Same - Godfather Don (feat. Sir Menelik & Mike L) / Catch A Bullet - Blue Sky Black Death / The Cookout - Crimeapple / Neva Die Alone - Capone-N-Noreaga / Respect Mine - Fat Joe (feat. Raekwon) / Red Tops - Conway (feat. Westside Gunn) / Don’t Trust a Soul - Westside Gunn / Survival of the Fittest - Mobb Deep / More Trife Life (Instrumental) - Mobb Deep / The City (Instrumental) - 4th Disciple / Peace Akhi - Ka / Science Project - Killah Priest / Day One - Killarmy / Unsolved Mysteries - Super Chron Flight Brothers (feat. Vordul Mega)
Nobody loves language the way rappers do. Outside of some poets and writers, nobody. This is why I don't listen to non-instrumental, non-rap music: the lyrics are stupid. (Oh but Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize! *makes jerk off motion*)
Rappers love words, the sound of words, the play of words, the double and deep meanings. Burroughs said language is a virus: rappers weaponized it like biological warfare. Language is a curse. Rappers are real good at cursing.
Rappers use language as a miracle, rappers use language as a weapon against oppression and the entire universe of Ten Thousand Things. They spit with miraculous weapons.
This is the Best of 2017.
This Is What It Comes Too - Raekwon / U.S. Embassy - Da Buze Bruvaz (feat. Ruste Juxx) / Smash The Crowd - Public Enemy / Bannon - B Dolan (feat. Jasiri X & Bambu DePistola) / Colonizers Corpse - Elucid / American Robot - Buy Muy Drugs (feat. Open Mike Eagle) / Welcome to Quazarz - Shabazz Palaces / Retro - Camp Lo / You Don't Stop - Killah Priest & 4th Disciple (feat. Raekwon) / Look What You Made Me Do (Taylor Swift Freestyle) - RA The Rugged Man / Smoke (Supa Dave West Remix) - The Difference Machine (feat. Homeboy Sandman) / Corrupt Novelist - Career Crooks (feat. DJ Manipulator) / The Chase - Controller 7 / Gingerbread Hag - Uncommon Nasa (feat. Brzowski & C-Money Burns of Vinyl Cape) / Refrigerator P! - Sean Price / Malt Liquor - Son Of Sam (feat. Guilty Simpson & Fat Ray) / Bottom Dollar - Jihad the Roughneck MC / Vigilantes - Wiki & Your Old Droog / Actual Facts - Ockz (feat. Conway) / XXXtras - Conway / The Chairman's Intent - Action Bronson / Facts - Royalz (feat. Roc Marciano) / Camel Crush - Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs / Saga City - Tha God Fahim (feat. Mach-Hommy & Your Old Droog) / Fear Is The Key - Diabolical Doctor Strange (feat. Zhaoski) / It Was Written - Armand Hammer / Bodhisattva - Words Hurt / Babaji - Atma / Samsara - Movement I: Existence, Movement II: Reoccurence, Movement III: Resurgence - Has-Lo / Rapper - milo (feat. Busdriver)
2017's year-end lists look more schizophrenic than ever--Drake rubs elbows with Elucid, Run The Jewel's December '16 LP taking top slots, people actually remember Rick Ross dropped a record at some point, not everyone is worshipping at the Kendrick altar, and '4:44' is for some still of-the-moment and others it's already 5:02.
Also Wu-Tang released an album. Yeah, I'm trying not to remember that too. Remember when a Wu release date filled you with joy and unbridled anticipation, instead of gut-clenching dread for the worst?
At the same time the whole year went by without the Trump-era Sleeping With The Enemy or even 'FDT3'. I was really expecting at least B. Dolan or Bambu or even Immortal Technique to come out of retirement to drop that. Maybe the era of the polemic rap album isn't coming back any more than DJ scratching or beatboxing is. Maybe the art's moved on. Maybe the personal is the political.
Oh wait, Eminem took care of it with his BET freestyle. Never mind. We're good.
Still, though. All this is because rap is getting broader, more nuanced, wider, more artful, more mature, and despite a firm headlock by big splash releases and Soundcloud bullshit with face tats and dumb hair, it feels like people are more willing and able to dabble here and there to find what they like. Cats are fucking with Brockhampton and Quelle Chris, Lil Pump and Snoop, whatever they feel.
Maybe we're in a short sweet spot where Spotify isn't quite yet choked at the gate by corporations making sure you hear their heavy investments. Rap Caviar and 'curated' playlists and robot-made ambient chillout will soon enough bring us full circle to spoon-fed tastes--that is, back to radio days.
If anything, there's more and more records where I was all, 'is this even rap? I mean, it feels...rappy...but...' Moor Mother has more in common with Diamanda Galas than MC Lyte. The dälek record swerved even further towards indie rock. This Brzowski is some spoken word/punk rock.
What's not lost is the urgency, the personal, the flipped linguistics, the fire-and-ice beats. The raging against power, the heart, raw thirst for fame, money, for more life.
Either way, I racked up about 30 or so albums as solid keepers, which at my usual hit rate of 5-10% means I peeped out...a lot of records. There were a lot of great loosies too, some kinda randomly collected here.
What I still don't fuck with though: made on a 1985 Casio watch beats. Jesus fuck, fam. You could sample any sound in recorded history from a 60,000 year old Neanderthal flute to all the BRAAAAAAAMMMMMMMMPPPPPPPs of the entire Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack and this blippity-blip crap is what moves your booty? Maybe I don't go to enough strip clubs to feel that.
These three records work as a triple-LP for me: like Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy--the first two books following two characters individually, bringing them together for the bleak denouement at the end of the Amerikkkan dream--*sigh*, OK fine, it's like The Defenders, except with Luke Cage and Another, More Sarcastic Luke Cage. Fucking triumphant nerd culture.
This is 'airport music for the perpetually detained,' no Tom Hanks or Otm Shank. It's the slow noose tightening on a fat neck. Milly rocking out the casket. Words stolen from neighbors in bodegas. The soundtrack to the 2019 Netflix series, Ghost Dog Returns: Bitter Wastelands which is 8 episodes of him waiting on line with QR ration coupons and regretting how shit turned out, laying awake waiting for that call in the night. Roll the dice, fuck around lost your life.
woods' newest--strangely for a Trump-era record--felt more expansive, less compressed and dare I say fun, thanks to the Blockhead/Aesop beats, but still blew more hard-crafted words out your dome than Hemingway's shotgun. Still requires multiple re-listens to unpack the footnotes. Every woods song sounds like the closing track from a long road's discography, an epitaph and epilogue. ROME was the fiery fiddle diatribe we were waiting for, a tag team cage fight between Nemesis The Warlock and Frantz Fanon vs. Baked Alaska and Steve Bannon.
What I always love about these cats is the way they cross the Biblical 'in the beginning...' God-body voice with Across 110th Street:
And the Henny flowed like rivers And the blunts was like Shaq's fingers And mens was men, bitches was bitches All was paradise until the first one started snitching It was written
If I had to choose, Valley of Grace was the record of the year I kept coming back to, that shook my dry bones. It felt like a complete work of rap reaching to higher art. It felt like the record we needed.
By general consensus (in the category of rappers I fuck with), Mach-Hommy won 2017. Despite his weird-ass business model of monthly $1,000 albums and barely being on anyone's radar a year ago, that's some talent son. I felt like the Dump Gawd Business School thing got really old fast--I don't wanna sort through 10, 15 tracks every month to find the best or have $777 to spend. And no doubt there was some true fire--Dumpmeister was the standout for me--the first drop of Dollar Menu was a truly drum-tight, crafted record. Fact is his 2013 F.Y.I. is as good as anything he dropped this year, maybe better, but we all slept on it: this is a well-honed blade. There's always a sense of a dude who really, really knows his craft.
Mach has a crisp, shot-pellet cadence and never-ending flow, with Jenga-stacked lyrics on lyrics that never unravel, and a good ear for lofi beats to ride on. He clips out lines one after another, with the precision and skilled relentlessness of John Wick popping head shots. His compressed density stacks like quantum microchips rather than loops from here to there in the more associative freewheels of other MCs; there's no variation in voice or tone, just a GZA-level science. Let's see where he goes next.
The way they were killing it last year, this was supposed to be Griselda's year. No doubt across a slew of releases and weekly guest verses, they were everywhere. And no doubt, they killed every single verse. But with spotty distribution--sometimes DatPiff, sometimes Soundcloud, sometimes their weird data-mining website--and lack of definitive product (which is an 'album'? Which is a 'mixtape'? What do those things mean anymore?), it felt more diluted. And it's gotten to the point (like with Mach and Marci) where I just peep out the beat to see if it slaps, since the verse will be--but none of this is resulting in classics we'll be talking about years from now.
Think about this crew vs. Wu-Tang: they arrived big and came hard, but there's no definitive classic--there's no 36 Griseldas, no Only Built 4 Westside Cackling. Maybe that's how we roll now, but people's attention is starting to slip, and you can only imagine what this crew coulda done with a RZA plan of staggered, tight releases.
When it works it's gold--the ice grill lyrics and the warm, drum-light Daringer beats is pure essence of street rap. Conway's regretful warrior with the thousand-mile stare, Gunn's Jimmy Jump devil-trickster, and Daringer's static crackle, haunted Cadillac beats--they've created their own classic sound.
I collected up the best joints here for the Academy's consideration.
milo just gets better and better with every record. He coulda easily disappeared on the college-tour gravy train, rapping clever about Nietszche and Harry Potter, but he doubled down on X-Clan and tapped his fury and his sadness for a record that's personal, political, artistical, uncompromising, heavy, funny and majestic in every way. The 8-bit and breezier beats are swapped out for lusher, funkier, jazzier ones, and it gives a heavier gravitas. In his own words: 'Rap is like speaking through time to black people. And I love it. I love it. I love that it's just the grand fucking compendium of black thought.' Still leaving room for the Borges, Jack Spicer & Nabokov checks, it's another solid one from an artist who keeps growing.
This record's gotten a lot of well-deserved praise--it's rare for a record like this to hit the lists of NPR, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, etc.--and better writers than me have tackled it in depth. Maybe this is the Trump-era defining record we needed, without the gunshot-revenge fantasies Paris would've brought: one about Black Lives Mattering, about real people, real losses. This was rap's Invisible Man meets The Jungle. This was music about the literal search for home. A eulogy, both wry and dry, mournful and playful.
Double album with no filler, light years ahead literally and figuratively, Palaceer and crew never disappoint. Jealous Machines goes somewhat better than the more quiet nebula storm of Star, and maybe at the heat death of the universe I'd still ride a cyberlaserbeam for their first nameless and unknowable LP. Either way, we'll be living on Kepler 3000 before anyone catches up. This is Black Panther by way of the '80s Flash Gordon. Flow my beats, the timecop said.
Wiki decompressed his lyrics from the Naked Lunch-level street abstraction he brought on Ratking for a much more heartfelt, personal paean to New York today and yesterday. It's a bodega Basketball Diaries. His team-up with Droog is a hardbody microphone joyful noise, as close as we'll get to a 2k Meth & Red record--and man, y'all slept on that one. Listening to these two youngbloods flex their muscles, knowing they're heavy on the rise is some bravura balling shit.
Pillow Factory Kings: Most Slept On
These ones were so fucking great, and y'all didn't pay no attention.
Complete mystery who these cats are or where they're from, this LP is a peerless throwback to '97. Alternating between old school Tims/bean pies/street raps and early Jedi Mind-type interludes with the spooky beats (really, really excellent beats) and sci fi/UFO/Atlantis/MK Ultra samples, it's proudly un-2017 in a really unique way. There's a new mixtape just out, The Friday Night Philosopher, which is exactly the dusty, echoing sound of the inside of my head in the mid-'90s when I used to chase the dragon and listen to Red Alert.
Remix compilations rarely as good as the original, but this collection of revisits/loosies/deleted cuts from last year's equally great, equally slept on 4th Side makes for a slightly more hip-hop version of the Zach-de-la-Rocha-in-Funkadelic sound. 'Bruce Willises' got more props and stunts than lemonade, and the remix of 'Another Tomorrow' takes an already psychedelic joint out to Nibiru's orbit.
Priest plus Wu guests like Ghost and Rae flip and flow over heavy old, old school beats--1980s beats, block rocking, power-from-the-streetlight beats. It's some time travel shit of the Wu 10 years early, when they would've been Prince Rakeem & The Ninjafied Nine or some shit. What could you not fucking love about this?!
So nobody knows what this kind of hip hop is called anymore...because 'Chance The Rapper is independent' and 'DJ Booth says everyone's mainstream because of the internet' and Open Mike Eagle's mad love across the board--I mean, when you get props in Entertainment Weekly, you ain't subway tunnel level. And Career Crooks and Jihad The Roughneck go right alongside Sean Price in the solid rappity-ass rapping department. I can't even fit shit into my own categories. Let's call it...uh...arthop...abstroprog...indieground...smarthop...I got nothing. Those all suck. I'm going with...
Zilla Rocca & Small Pro brought their A-game on this one, with top-notch, Ghost-worthy storytelling ('Cold Ten Thousand') and headbangers Chuck Chillout woulda bugged out for a hot August Friday night show ('Corrupt Novelist'). This one's for the Suzuki Samurai. This one's for the rap nerds who still have a tight fade.
19 years deep and still bringing it, Philosophies continues from last year's Asphalt for Eden in waveform wavering between industrial noise-hop and a more melodic sound, but still comes correct and brings that beauty-in-the-car-crusher distortion and smart, raging lyrics.
The good doctor's been my primary care beat physician for a while, and he's settled on his own sound of delicate melody with a strong Afrobeat/Ali Farka Toure feel. He's rounded up lyrics from PremRock, Zilla, Louis Mackey, Has-Lo and Godforbid to lace these medications. Shit is better than Lexapro to re-align your chi.
Stepping out of the Third Sight shadow he's cast for years but still chilling with dead bodies in a b-boy stance, Jihad brings a more traditional, solid rap record with a funkier, more flowing set. Great beat picks, still with the hype cadence.
Hey you know those superhero movies the kids like? Imagine if there were one where all the superheroes teamed up to fight aliens, or robots, or alien robots. That would be cool, right? Now imagine that, except with East Coast underground rappers like SKECH185, Teddy Faley, Warren Britt and...all of them. Brought together by Lt Headtrip & Willie Green in a Rap Nick Fury style, this is Soundbombing 2017. Man, we need more comps like this.
So many of the cats I been rocking with for years really stretched themselves and went for it this year, stepped up their game in a big way, stretched their wings and flew in your face like a rabid NY pigeon. Nasa definitely did, lining up guest verses from some of the best MCs in the game, known and should-be-more-known (Open Mike Eagle, Guilty Simpson, Skipp Coon, Quelle Chris, the legendary Mike Ladd). His production game is tighter than the jeans on rappers we denigrate. It's a long night's run through the city on drum-driven adrenaline.
Alaska unleashed his sardonic, witty rage against the stupid fucking country Amerikkka's become, and Lang Vo brought basement-cracking beats to the table for this one. Maybe it's Old Man Raps At Cloud but I was scorched by that Henry Godzilla radioactive fire breath.
Unpacking that sentence, Lang needs to lend me his Home Depot card and Alaska better give up his insurance details. C'mon son, fun is fun but we're responsible fucking homeowners here.
Amazingly accomplished and polished record with rhymes like a steampunk Earl Sweatshirt (Earl Steampunk?), alternating with instrumental joints which are sometimes like Herb Alpert nodding on lean on the deck of the Pequod and sometimes like Godspeed Whoops You! Dropped The Boston Philharmonic Down The Stairs In 4x Slow Motion. This cat's new to me, and I can't wait to delve into his back catalog.
I like Bronson more when he sticks to his gluttonous construction of gourmet food+baroque substance abuse+sexual perversions, when he really revels in his tremendous appetites. He does less of that here, but it definitely goes and it's a lot less hit-or-miss trackwise than his earlier LPs.
Muggs continues the Vs. series of collabos with rappers who aren't in many people's GOAT lists, but elevates them to a higher level while high. Meyhem brings his best to this, and it definitely delivers.
There will never be another Marcberg anymore than there will be another Cold Vein. That's some Louvre shit that can't be repeated. Still, another Roc LP that rolls like a brushed-copper Escalade with butter-leather seats is always worthy of our worship. He simply runs the fucking game, and we're living in the Marcazoic Era where every new MC is carbon-dated against his 2001-monolith shadow.
And once again for the fifth year running, Marci ruled the guest-verse-recorded-in-a-private-Per-Se-dining room. Hand-picked selection of 16 of those here.
The best posthomous release ever assembled. How could it not be? Price was such a microphone fiend, guest verses he did are still dropping two years after his death. It's a fitting closing act to one of the most solid discographies in the game.
Crazy mixtape of lost, forgotten, b-side, remix joints with always-dope Paul production and featuring a jaw-dropping list of greats--Breeze Brewin, Jean Grae, Horror City, Trugoy, Guru, DOOM, Masta Ace...man. This is probably gonna disappear soon, so cop it while you can.
Free LP celebrating PE's 30 years in the game that's now disappeared from official release, they sound as good as ever. This one really fucking goes as good as anything they've dropped since Muse Sick* (*insert your last favorite PE record as directed by your dentist).
Been a long, long time since I heard a straight-up instrumental album of this quality--acrobatically flipping from track to track, great drum precision, wide-ranging samples and styles. Watch the boy flex his chops, it's a bravura performance.
So many of the blogs I came up with, or fucked with heavy--all gone. I'm still standing here.
Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a DJ.
Not some long-haired bitch in the club in an ironic t-shirt. And I didn't have the skills to be a Grandmaster. But I wanted to be DJ Red Alert.
I started making pause tapes in 1987. Off the Marley Marl, Mr Magic, Chuck Chillout and Red Alert shows. One night Red Alert started cutting up 'South Bronx,' spinning it, scratching it. That was when I saw what hip hop was, what it could be. Something ever-elastic, ever-changeable; you could always add something new, remix it, play elements off each other. It was like a living thing.
And Red Alert would always bring you the best new shit. You knew he was gonna let you know all the latest fire.
I made 50 pause tapes through to 2007. The MP3 era. How was I supposed to get a digital file on to a cassette? Went digital. Went worldwide.
X to the L
There's 153 posts up in here, 116 are mixes. There's about 2,500 different ill joints I brought you. I had over 300,000 listens from almost every country on earth, except like North Korea and Vatican City.
I only had three reasons for doing this. First, there's that feeling when you hear a joint that's so tight, so perfect: you feel like grabbing cats by the shirt and hollering, 'LISTEN TO THIS!' You gotta share it with someone, some how. That's why people start music blogs, until they get married, get bored, or get pimped out by Complex.
Second, rap's given me so much, I wanted to give something back--especially to the fam who are so fucking talented and don't get enough shine. I been hyping up the best of the year shit since 2008. I feel like I championed a lotta cats early on who went on to get respect--Ka, milo, Elucid, billy woods, Open Mike Eagle--and other cats who I'm still waiting for you to catch the fuck up on, like Shirt.
Third, I wanted to see if the mixtape could be--maybe not an artform, but a medium. Could you sonically paint with it, collage with it.
Could you even make narratives with it? So over three mixes I tried telling a story about robots--robots as slaves, robot revolution, a melding of human and machine. I never felt like 9/11 got any kind of artistic treatment that really felt like the thing itself. And so much of it was visual, the video, the photos--what could you do with just sound? So The Falling. That's probably the best thing I ever did.
Could a mix be a kind of curation, cataloging--that's been another side of it. What kind of juxtapositions could you do without it being stupid? How incredible is the art of crate digging and sampling--transformation, alchemy from any element into strictly dope? Here's all the best joints with Asian samples. With classical music samples. I gave you eight Super Chicken dub-hop mixes. Seven B-Bop For B-Boys mixes of the illest jazz-hop. The spaghettiWestern ones. I can't scratch or beat juggle or any of that shit. But I got a mean ear and I curate. This is the place where I explore what hip hop can be, because it covers so much ground--so many styles, so many topics, so much life. Never forgetting that at its core, hip hop is political. Hip hop is street stories. Hip hop is about injustice.
Thing is, I kinda feel like I did all I set out to do here. It's getting old. There's not really another level to take this to. Once you do the Old and New Testaments in mixtape form, where you gonna go with it? The odes to graffiti, They Live We Sleep--that's as tight as it gets.
I could do interviews but nah. I could do more label-oriented mixes I guess, like the ones I did for Uncommon and World Around. I could do more single-artist mixes I guess, but anyone could do that. The Autolecttwo, PSY/OPSogist vs Zardoz and Rammellzee ones are tight, not sure I could top those. I thought about trying to get artists together for compilations to raise money for good causes, but man--they gotta eat.
I could try making my own beats but they would be pretty strictly amateur hour, and there's so many talented people trying to eat off their beats--I'm not gonna add to the competition. I could be more of a blog--but nobody reads fucking blogs and there's talented writers trying to eat off that too. I used to write press releases for rappers for $100 back in the day: there's only so many ways to say 'it's got a funky beat and you can dance to it.'
I might write some stuff for other sites or throw it on Medium though. Thirteen Ways of Looking At Critical Beatdown, Letters To A Young Rapper, Towards A Complete Theory of Rap Music--look out for those eventually. Who knows, if I find an 808 in a garbage can you might hear beats from me some day.
Also all the mixtape sites that used to show me love are gone--Pearson Towers, Mr Blentwell, Mixcrate, and the mighty Percussion Lab. And everyone has a goddamn podcast now. And everyone's making Spotify playlists instead of mixes. Shit, Spotify makes playlists for you. Apple Music has 'playlist curators.' You got an algorithm DJ, fuck you need me for? Go ask the robot DJ what lives in your phone. And you can't put no Joe Pesci samples up in your playlists fam.
iTunes won't fuck with me because I only speak with my hands. I got a Mixcloud but who doesn't? Pay for SoundcloudPro? Nah g. These dudes won't fuck with me because...whatever. But I don't do this for clicks, I'm not interested in building a brand, never was. I do it for those of you who listen, and I thank you. But I done run out of ideas, places to go with this that aren't like what anyone else does.
So there's four, maybe five more mixes to come, and I'm out.
If you fucked with me along the way, I'm grateful--I really am. I might throw up some of the pause tape archives. Hollering retirement and then making a comeback is the 68th Element of Hip Hop, so you never know, right?
But I'm still looking for the perfect beat. The perfect beat was already made by The 45 King in 1987. The perfect beat is Roc Marciano's 'Snow.' The empire never ended. The search is the thing. You never stop searching for the perfect beat. It don't stop.