Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Local Hip-Hop Scene and Its Importance in Our World

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Gus’ Thought

This past week I was fortunate enough to attend a show at Mac’s Bar in Lansing, Michigan with fellow Bonus Cut writer Justin Cook. The show featured Lansing area artists D Fraze, L Soul, and James Gardin (F.K.A. P.H.I.L.T.H.Y). The headliner was a duo from Indiana known as The Pro Letarians whose music features many different samples from famous artists such as James Brown and The Beatles. As we walked in, L Soul was killing it on the mic. He was very impressive and his rhymes were audible and cut through to the crowd. It will be exciting to see his abilities as an MC and on-stage persona improve.

Following L Soul was James Gardin, member of the Detroit/Lansing hip-hop collective known as BLAT! Pack. This was a big show for James as it was his last official show going by his MC name P.H.I.L.T.H.Y. I was struck by the significance of this as so much of an MC’s identity is wrapped up in his/her name. Throughout his set, I was impressed with James’ presence and message as an MC. Off the stage he is an approachable down to earth person, and while on stage, his easy going fun loving personality is even more apparent. Within the first five minutes of his performance, I was drawn in by the overall positivity embedded within his music.

Early on in the performance he asked the crowd if they had dreams and/or goals they were striving to achieve. From there he did his song “Wake Up Sleepyhead,” that urges people not to “sleep” on themselves and to be confident in their skills, passions and goals. This is such an important concept to rap about in the face of all the poverty, injustice and prejudice in the United States but also around the world. Later in the show he had the crowd reach as high as they could. Most of the crowd played along, raising their arms to the ceiling. As we put our arms down, he had us put our arms up a second time. We all reached substantially higher, really stretching out. James pointed out that nobody had actually reached as high as they could the first time. He related this scenario to our lives and proposed that we should always strive to push ourselves and be the best we can be.

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The Pro Letarians

In the United States there is news of hardship and struggle everyday. There are a great number of people in this country that legitimately struggle to make ends meet and must fight for every penny to keep their families fed. In schools, students are continually pushed into what education experts call the “Achievement Gap” as the structure of school resembles that of a factory. In the past year alone there have been multiple shootings, sexual assaults, suicides, house foreclosures, hate crimes and even a bombing. Beyond this, the machine that is popular culture presents an image of progress that is tremendously status quo. It gets to a point where it can feel that there is nothing good happening. This is where I believe hip-hop becomes so important. MCs are able to point out the inconsistencies within our society in such a poetic and creative way that it becomes impossible not to listen and ultimately become conscious. With James’ set, it was impossible not to feel motivated and happy to be alive. To have an MC telling me from the stage to believe in myself and follow my dreams was refreshing and as resistant to the system as it gets. With that in mind, this is so important for students to hear as there is so much agency embedded within this message.

I went to Mac’s Bar to see a hip-hop show, unsure of what to expect. I left the show feeling extremely motivated and ready to pursue my passions. This was in large part due to James Gardin’s set as he was able to communicate positivity, hope and love all the while demonstrating his natural abilities as an MC. As a resident of the Lansing area, it was exciting to see quality hip-hop happening in Lansing. If you aren’t up on James Gardin and the BLAT! Pack you really should be.

Justin’s Thought

Last week, Gus Navarro and I attended a show at Mac’s Bar. He gave me the scoop a few nights before, and I was excited to see some MCs from the great state of Michigan. The concert highlighted local talent, featuring artists D Fraze, L Soul and James Gardin (P.H.I.L.T.H.Y), with a headliner hailing from Indiana, The Pro Letarians.

We arrived a little late, but were able to catch the tail end of L Soul rocking the mic in white threads; the man literally appeared to glow. His flow was crisp, clear and lethal. Not only was his stage presence other-worldly, the beats were mesmerizing. Instantly, I fell into the groove—body overtaken by the music. He was backed by a group of hype-men, adding a lighthearted feel to the whole performance. All in all, it was great way to begin the night.

Next, James Gardin, member of the Detroit/Lansing hip-hop collective known as BLAT! Pack, was scheduled to perform. During his introduction, it was stated that “P.H.I.L.T.H.Y” (James’ stage name) would be put to death. And what a beautiful death it was: James Gardin took the stage and set the mood just right. Most of the crowd stood still, scattered throughout the venue, but James drew us in and got our feet moving. He radiated love and positivity, yet remained calm and cool. A few songs in, he decided to change up his set list and perform some unexpected tunes. He called three of his friends on stage, who backed him with some soulful harmonies. This was one of my favorite moments of the show. Everyone on stage was smiling, laughing and just loving every moment of the performance—that’s what live hip-hop is all about.

The carefree attitude continued throughout James’ show. At one point, he needed two audience members for some help. It just so happened that two people had birthdays that day, so James gave them both a b-day freestyle. He started pretty strong, but soon, his verses off the dome became a silly element added to the night—James was being goofy and the crowd loved it, being goofy in return. After, I had the pleasure to talk with James, and a few other members of BLAT! Pack. They were all calm and collected beings. We spoke about hip-hop, community, life and future events. The BLAT! Pack will be part of a rap festival this weekend in Lansing (The Lansing Hip-Hop Festival), and will also perform before Ludacris at the Common Ground Music Festival, July 14.

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L Soul

I really enjoyed my time that night, but one thing did bother me: the lack of people. Amazing hip-hop is happening in my city, and most people do not even realize it. Local art movements are essential in reforming local culture, and we must all do our job to support them. What James Gardin and BLAT! Pack represent is a movement from within, something we all must internalize. We must bring our creativity and talents together, support one another and change the way we live every step of the way. With art and imagination, we can rebuild cities like Lansing and Detroit—we just need to help by supporting local talent.

I wish more people could have seen the death of “P.H.I.L.T.H.Y” and feel the resurrection of James Gardin. It was some real shit; and just the symbolism of shedding a persona, an extension of the ego, sends chills through my veins. Why would we want to be anyone but who we are? Why does society make us ashamed and guilty for who we were born to be? We really got to start believing, dreaming, putting faith in ourselves and the world around. Because if we can’t, what will we have left? Everyday it seems like politicians are getting crazier and crueler. When will it stop? I believe, it’s when we let go, drop our “P.H.I.L.T.H.Y.”, and be who we are. This is when we are ready to embrace life and take back the power, from bottom up. We have to come together, support local arts and re-imagine our world with love.

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Album Review: “Acid Rap” by Chance the Rapper

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By: Harry Jadun 

“Balancing on sporadicity and fucking pure joy. Nightly searches for a bed and I just came off tour with Troy. But I can’t complain I got some motherfucking business. How many lab partners have I fucked since I got suspended?” -Chance the Rapper, “Good Ass Intro” 

Coming off of his 10 Day mixtape, which was inspired by a high-school suspension for weed related activities, much was expected of Chance the Rapper for his recently released mixtape, Acid Rap. Judging from his unorthodox delivery, outrageous ad libs and funky instrumentals that are tethered down by hard-hitting percussion, it’s clear that Chance has graduated to harder drugs for his newest work of art. The listener benefits from this, as it allows Chance to delve deeper into his mind as he explores many different topics, from crime in Chicago to watching orange Nickelodeon VHS tapes as a child. Chance takes us through a trip, poetically painting vivid pictures of life as a burgeoning rapper from Chicago.

Chance’s unique style was introduced to us on 10 Day but he has refined it for Acid Rap, in which his recipe for success calls for many different genres and inspirations. Here he blends aspects of acid jazz with samples of Kanye West and Tupac; moreover, he throws in clever word play, a little bit of Spanglish and even a Russian accent. Cue in his Lil Wayne-esque raspy, flawless off-key singing, and sprinkle his trademark “igh” ad libs on top and the final product is a quirky and delicious meal for listeners’ ears to feast upon.

It’s clear that Chance is proud of where he comes from, as he name-drops just about every significant rapper, landmark or business in Chicago. He doesn’t forget to bring his Save Money crew along for the ride, and features fellow Chicago artists Vic Mensa, BJ the Chicago Kid, Noname Gypsy, Lilli K and Twista. As a man of his city, this builds up his credibility as a Chicago native as well as a reliable voice for what is happening in the Windy City.

When hearing a story, the listener must never forget where the tale is coming from. Fellow Chicago rappers, such as Chief Keef, glorify the violence that plagues the streets of Chicago, which is commonly referred to as Chiraq due to the amount of homicides that has now exceeded American troop casualties in Afghanistan since 2012. Chance the Rapper, who dropped out of college to pursue a rap career after his good friend was killed in a stabbing in 2011, provides a different viewpoint. Throughout Acid Rap, Chance tells the story of Chicago through the eyes of a humble, down-to-Earth 20-year-old who lives in a city that’s in way over its head. Never is this more prominent than in “Pusha Man,” which starts out with Chance as a local drug dealer boastfully rapping about threesomes and drugs. The song then slows down, presenting us with the red pill that is the harsh reality of living in the streets of Chicago: “I’ll take you to land, where the lake made of sand, and the milk don’t pour and the honey don’t dance, and the money ain’t yours.” Even though he wishes he could be “Captain save the hood,” he admits he roams around the city with a gun on his hips, not to contribute to the violence, but to protect himself. Later on “Acid Rain,” Chance admits that he “trips to make the fall shorter.” It is this brutal honesty about himself as well as his surroundings that makes Chance such a lovable character.

Acid Rap also provides Chance with a stream-of-consciousness diary to explore his thoughts and reflect on his life, seemingly discovering himself bar by bar throughout the mixtape. His vibrant images and deft wordplay allow him to convey complex thoughts and feelings with ease. On the ultra-relatable “Cocoa Butter Kisses” Chance reminisces on his childhood when he watched Nickelodeon, and can’t help but hate the monster he has become, “wiling off peyote like Wiley the Coyote… Put visine inside my eyes so my grandma would fuckin’ hug me.” Throughout Acid Rap Chance takes listeners along for the rollercoaster ride as he grows up as a rapper and human being.

Although the topics that Chance takes on are very intense, he never fails to keep it light and fun, providing the listener with an odd sense of optimism that’s infectious upon listening to his charismatic flow. On the interlude, he relishes the smaller things in life that we take for granted. On the outro, he channels his inner Kendrick Lamar and uses a recording of a phone conversation with his father to show his love for his family. At times like these, Chance reminds us that he is still a kid, naively optimistic in a city under a dark shadow of doubt.

Of course, Chance takes some time to pat himself on the back for all of his achievements. On the playful “Favorite Song” he teams up with superfriend Childish Gambino and provides the listener with some witty, English-bending bars. He half-heartedly compares himself to the Miami Heat, metaphorically compares LSD to Lake Shore Drive and says fuck you to his high school faculty. All is good in the world of Chance the Rapper, who has transformed from a suspended high school student to the feature of magazines and blogs in less than a year.

After listening to Acid Rap, it’s hard not to agree with Lilli K on the introduction when she sings, “Even better than I was the last time, baby.” Chance the Rapper has improved as a rapper over the past year, and provides us with a vivid trip through his thoughts and feelings. Luckily for us, on “Chain Smoker” he lets us know that this isn’t his last work of art: “I ain’t tryna go out at all, got a lot of ideas still to throw out the door.”

“Cocoa Butter Kisses (feat. Vic Mensa and Twista)”

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Organizations That Matter: Impact 89FM and The Vibe

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By: Daniel Hodgman

Growing up and living in East Lansing, Michigan for 22 years has shaped me more than I can imagine, and for that I’m thankful. As a kid among thousands, I have grown as close to the city as I possibly could have, and although I’m no longer a Michigan resident, East Lansing will remain close to my heart until the end of days.

For those readers who aren’t familiar with the area, East Lansing is a suburban city located due east of Lansing, Michigan’s capital. It’s home to Michigan State University, which stands on the south side of Grand River Ave., a tree-lined major road that divides the neighborhoods from the campus and also connects Lansing to Detroit. The main drag of East Lansing consists of college shops and restaurants, and despite the consistent shuffling of businesses (the old Taco Bell location WILL NEVER hold a company for more than a year; RIP Barnes & Noble), it serves as the epicenter to events like The Great Lakes Folk Festival, The Art Festival and Michigan State’s homecoming parade. Moreover, East Lansing’s diverse population and mix of residents, teachers and students provides a unique and fundamentally sound environment for anyone.

Along with a good chunk of my friends and residents of the Lansing area, I’ve seen things come and go, especially in the music scene. Some of the first records I bought were at Tower Records on Grand River and CD Warehouse on Abbot; my first local show was in middle school at The Temple Club, a venue that brought in acts like KRS-One, Story of the Year and Mustard Plug; and one of the first articles I ever wrote in college targeted Small Planet and its resurgence in Chandler Crossings and its eventual closing. While all of those venues are no longer a part of the Lansing area, new ones have surfaced to fill the gaps.

Most important about all of this however is that despite some venues’ fall, there are organizations and companies that have been here from the beginning. One of these is The Impact.

THE IMPACT

Impact 89FM is Michigan State’s student-run radio station that broadcasts on 88.9FM and streams online. It has been named “College Radio Station of the Year” 11 times by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, and has also been nominated by CMJ and mtvU.

During the day, the station shares the latest alternative, indie and rock music along with old cuts and classic tracks. Cuts like “The Top Five at Five” make daytime listening worthwhile because not only does the station share music with listeners, it actively seeks out to include them by giving away prizes and concert tickets. During the evening The Impact switches gears and provides listeners with speciality shows such as Sit or Spin, Accidental Blues and The Asian Invasion. One of The Impact’s speciality shows is The Vibe (FKA The Cultural Vibe), a program that has not only stood the test of time, but has challenged its listeners to dig into crates for raw and important hip-hop cuts.

THE VIBE

On Saturday’s from 8pm to midnight, The Impact presents The Vibe, a speciality show that features hip-hop, soul and funk  in grand fashion. Highlighting both mainstream and underground songs that matter, DJ Riddle does an excellent job at showcasing the diversity and message hip-hop brings all while retaining flair on the radio. Unlike other hip-hop stations you’ll hear, The Vibe shares actual hip-hop, instead of the greased up gloss that parades the mainstream media. And this right here is why The Vibe and programs like it are important to our society.

These days it’s become increasingly evident that national media and news outlets have opted to go for extreme bias instead of presenting a clear-cut path of righteousness down the middle. In fact, its come to the point where companies like Fox News, CNN and CNBC have to pick sides as they present news, instead of reporting on the real. In addition to this, no matter what stance these companies take, they still present stories without fully giving us all of the evidence. To me, the news is slowly turning into the digestive slime our politics has slowly become. With national radio stations it has become the same thing. We see the same stuff get churned in and out every hour on the hour, and it’s a one-sided affair. They will give you one side, but you sure as hell won’t hear the other.

So how does all of this play out with hip-hop and Michigan and The Impact and The Vibe? Well, because everything is intertwined and everything is cyclical, and the fact remains that if there are still programs and organizations like The Vibe and The Impact around the country, then there’s still hope for truth. What both The Vibe and The Impact present is more than just good music; they shower us with content from all sides, further enriching our lives with everything from everywhere, and the fact that they’ve stood the test of time is a testament to the notion that the good always outweighs the bad.

Last Saturday, Bonus Cut co-creator Gus Navarro was lucky enough to sit down with DJ Riddle for a few hours during The Vibe and discuss hip-hop with him face-to-face. As a longtime fan of the program it’s an honor for Bonus Cut to interact with The Vibe, and it’s a wonder why there aren’t more programs like it.

Simply reading and writing this isn’t enough, and it’s important that when we actively seek out information and news we do it so we’re presented with all of the facts. Furthermore, it’s important that we continue to explore all realms of each story so that we know the truth from all sides. Like The Vibe, a program that gives us everything from mainstream to underground, we can better ourselves by spreading the full picture.

You can visit Impact 89FM’s website and radio stream here.

For more information on The Vibe click here.

For more organizations and friends of Bonus Cut click here.

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Rap Attack II: Female Artists in Hip-Hop

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A few weeks ago, Gus Navarro wrote about female MCs in hip-hop entitled “Rap Attack.” This is the follow up.

By: Victor Anderson 

The Internet Age has allowed for many diverse voices to be heard that wouldn’t have had the chance if we only relied on what the radio gave us. As we know, sites like Myspace, Facebook and Youtube allow anyone with a computer and internet connection to upload and share their music or videos to the entire world and if it happens to become infectious, it can spread and go viral. This has been the case for a lot of independent artists who are currently in the spotlight right now. One day, you are just a normal person like the rest of us and the next day your face and sound is displayed on the screens of thousands to millions. That could be said for artists like Tyler, the Creator and Wiz Khalifa to people like Lil’ B and Riff Raff. If you present something original and different, it just might catch on and push you into major success without the help of a record deal. Generally, this is a good thing considering you have absolute control of your creativity and integrity without label heads breathing down your back trying to mold you into a product that they can sell.

Now-a-days this viral phenomenon can happen to just about anybody and as we know, America is a melting pot that homes countless individuals from several unique aspects of life. The DIY ethic has trickled down to rap and hip-hop and has opened doors for a ginger-headed Claire’s employee and a textile major from FIT. I’m talking about Daytona Beach “bubble-rapper” Kitty (Pryde) and Orlando native but New York based vocalist, Kilo Kish. The music from these ladies hardly orbits around their gender because today it’s irrelevant that they are “female rappers.” They are true artists who focus on making music that is completely original and ultimately reflects them. You don’t have to fit the mold of a Lil’ Kim or Trina anymore; we have transcended the box and the options for what a rapper should and should not be are now and forever will be limitless.

Kitty

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Kitty hit the scene around this time last year with her video for “Okay Cupid,” and has come a long way for someone who originally began rapping for fun and for the pleasure of her friends. But when listening to her first two EPs, The Lizzy McGuire Experience and haha im sorry it feels like you’re listening to the audio tapes of a 16-year-old suburban girl’s diary. The video for “Okay Cupid” really sets up a great backdrop that really represents what she’s about and where she comes from. She’s a kid who is influenced by the internet, social media and top 40 hits just like a lot of adolescents and acne faced teens from this generation. There is nothing wrong with being a product of your environment and she attracts fans for the same reason that Gucci Mane or Young Jeezy gains fans in the hood. It’s relatable to a certain sub-culture and in Kitty’s case, she pertains to a side of America that isn’t really represented in hip-hop (but ironically happens to be heavily affected by mainstream hip-hop.). Even if it’s not so relatable to you, at least it is something new and refreshing and is an interesting take on rap from an un-popular view point.

In her earlier projects, the quality is incredibly lo-fi (because she recorded them in her closet) and her delicate and timid voice rides on top of glittery cartoonish and pink lollygagging felt tracks produced by Beautiful Lou while other beats were made with GarageBand. Her shy, awkward and embarrassed style produces underrated, but clever lyrics about getting in trouble with her parents, teenage relationships, the World Wide Web, the mall, Starbucks, wetting the bed and anxiety rashes but happen to be delivered with a captivating poise.

A few months ago, she released her more professionally recorded EP titled, D.A.I.S.Y. rage and while staying true to her original style, still managed to produce a project that embodied the growth she has made as an artist. D.A.I.S.Y. rage has received a pretty good amount of hype, with production from hubby, Hot Sugar, Mike Finito and her homebody GRANT, and features from Greenhead’s Lakutis and up-and-coming West Coast rapper, Antwon.

She’s currently touring with Detroit rapper Danny Brown and has claimed to be working on some new music with producer, Ryan Hemsworth and experimental/electro-pop/undefinable artist, Grimes.

Check out her most recent song and video produced by Hot Sugar here.

And if you like Lizzy McGuire, you might dig this.

Mixtapes

Kilo Kish

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Kilo Kish has been extremely fortunate in her career as a musician. Her college roommates where rappers/producers and knew Odd Future member Matt Martians from high school. Matt Martians is a producer for OF’s psychedelic sub-group, The Jet Age of Tomorrow and OF’s trippy neo-soul sub-group, The Internet. Much like Kitty, Kilo Kish was only making silly songs with her friends for fun until she recorded the song, “Want You Still,” for The Jet Age’s second project, The Journey To the 5th Echelon, and that’s when people started to pay attention.

Around the time of her senior year at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, she began work on her first recording project and the entire thing was produced by The Internet! The EP was titled Homeschool, and it landed at the 28 spot on Complex magazine’s top 50 albums of 2012.

The Internet provided numerous amounts of strange sounds and rhythms and grooves that served as the music but Kilo wove and sprinkled her unorthodox flow, poetic speech and style into and on top of the production to make this project a brand new listening experience for anyone who cared to open their ears. Her lyrical ability and content is difficult to compare to anyone else’s in hip-hop or rap and that’s what makes her music special and unique.

The funny thing about her is that she never really wanted to be a musician. She is just really keen to artistic expression. So over the past year following “Homeschool,” she has done a bit of touring but has also been focusing on modeling and fashion, design and different kinds of arts. She actually creates and designs all of her album and single art. But when she feels like expressing her self musically, it’s a pretty simple process: she writes a song in a matter of minutes and doesn’t obsess with it; she just moves on and continues to create.

Kish’s most recent project, K+ was a more collaborative record and like Kitty, you can tell that she has grown as an artist and was experimenting with a few more producers and sounds. Some of the collabs include: Childish Gambino, Vince Staples, A$AP Ferg and The Flatbush Zombies. K+ is a pretty record and has a smooth R&B feel to it.

In honor of summer, check out Kilo Kish’s “Watergun.”

And her first claim to fame song.

Mixtapes

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Album of the Week: “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” by Kendrick Lamar

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Kendrick Lamar
good kid, m.A.A.d. city
Aftermath/Interscope

Daniel’s Thought

Three weeks ago Bonus Cut’s “Album of the Week” was Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music, a highly underrated piece that was slept on by many critics despite acclaim from others. For 2012, R.A.P. Music was the second best hip-hop record, and as it touched various lights from a veteran in a community focused on new-age rap, it was this new-age rap community that came away the winner with Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city.

The main takeaway from Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city isn’t the dazzling lyrical story-telling, the mix of pulverizing and soothing beats or even the cast of stars that are featured on the album–it’s the narrative. For perhaps the first time in the new-age rap era, Lamar gives us an unprecedented look into the wake of a rapper on an album from start to finish. As opening track “Sherane”–a song which displays a 17-year-old Lamar borrowing his mother’s car to pursue a girl–ends, we are introduced to the first of many voice-mails where his mother is asking for the car back and his father is yelling frantically about missing dominoes. It becomes apparent that these voice-mails aren’t merely voice-mails, but rather the family connection that is holding Lamar back from the Compton, California gang-life that consumes too many.

On “Backseat Freestyle” Lamar transitions his story from being a young kid pursuing girls to a newly-turned rapper freestyling over beat-tapes. The song itself seems like a masculine-charged rap with lines like “Goddamn I got bitches,” but when put into the context of the album it shows that this is the part of the story where Kendrick Lamar is just now beginning to learn how to rap and “Backseat Freestyle” is his first attempt at fitting into the scene. As it becomes evident that “Backseat Freestyle” is a continuous stream of the good kid story, Lamar’s genius becomes even more grand.

“The Art of Peer Pressure” is the next song on the album which screams classic West Coast g-funk with rolling high-pitched synths. The beginning is soothing, almost as if Kendrick is playing an ode to his idols at his friend’s house, and we see a newly turned rapper wrapped in lush happiness. However, the mood of the song changes from innocence to seriousness by way of elongated bass synths and minimalist percussion claps, and here Lamar shares a story timidly. “I never was a gangbanger,” Lamar explains, “I mean I was never stranger to the folk neither. I really doubt it. Rush a nigga quick and then we laugh about it. That’s ironic because I’ve never been violent, until I’m with the homies.”

It’s this continual line of first-person storytelling that makes good kid so strong and cohesive. We collectively see a character under the confines of urban America grow and develop and eventually learn what’s important in life. On “Real,” a song that features another voicemail, Lamar’s father puts it perfectly: “Any nigga can kill a man, that don’t make you a real nigga. Real is responsibility. Real is taking care of your motherfucking family.”

Gus’ Thought

Kendrick Lamar’s second album good kid, m.A.A.d. city was released to immense critical acclaim. After this, Kendrick had cemented his reputation as a quality MC in Los Angeles but also across the country. With Kendrick’s lyricism and unique style of story telling, he allows the audience to hear, see and feel his experiences from growing up in Compton. What sticks out are the complex thoughts and skillful production found on this album. Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore sound features slower melancholy sounding production from the likes of Dr. Dre, Pharrell Williams, Just Blaze and Scoop Deville. With good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar provides knowledgeable insight into the angst of adolescence, city life, drugs, gang violence, religion and the state of hip-hop.

The first track, “Sherane,” opens with a prayer asking Jesus for forgiveness. From there Kendrick launches into a story about his attraction to a girl and the sexual tension and awkwardness of being a seventeen year old. As he puts into words in the second verse, “Love or lust, regardless we’ll fuck cause the trife in us / It’s deep rooted, the music of being young and dumb / It’s never muted, in fact it’s much louder where I’m from.” And in the third verse, “I’m thinking bout the sex, thinking bout her thighs / Or maybe kissing on her neck, or maybe what positions next / Sent a picture of her titties blowing up my texts / I looked at em and almost ran my front bumper into Corvette.” On this first song, Kendrick perfectly illustrates the complexity of teenage sexual attraction.

This is much different than the hyper-masculinity found in much of mainstream hiphop. As the album moves forward, the intricacies of growing up is evident throughout. This is especially apparent in “The Art Of Peer Pressure,” “Good Kid,” and “m.A.A.d city” where Kendrick sheds light on hanging out with his boys, the true complications of peer pressure, wanting to fit in, the harsh realities of growing up in Compton and gang violence.

On the dark and slow moving beat of “The Art Of Peer Pressure” he says, “I got the blunt in my mouth / Usually I’m drug-free, but shit I’m with the homies” And in the second verse, “Rush a nigga quick and then we laugh about it / That’s ironic cause I’ve never been violent, until I’m with the homies.” In this song, Kendrick shares with the audience his experiences with hanging with close friends, getting into trouble and doing things he probably wouldn’t do on his own time. The brilliance of this track is it’s relatable content as he speaks about being a teenager and chillin’ with his crew. Kendrick’s experiences with drugs, alcohol and girls feel all too real and comparable to most teenage boys as they come of age, regardless of where they live.

He takes this knowledge to the next level on the seventh track, “Good Kid.” Produced by The Neptunes and featuring Pharrell Williams on the hook, “Good Kid” addresses resiliency and the constant presence of gangs and police within Compton. “But what am I supposed to do with the blinking of red and blue / Flash from the top of your roof and your dog has to say woof / And you ask, ‘Lift up your shirt’ cause you wonder if a tattoo of affiliation can make it a pleasure to put me through gang files / But that don’t matter because the matter is racial profile.”

With “Good Kid,” the audience is able to understand the endless racial tension, hostility and harassment from the LAPD. At the same time, the continuous gang violence within the community is exposed. For adolescents such as Kendrick, it becomes clear that they are caught in the middle and that there is brutality from the police, but also the gangs. On “Good Kid,” Kendrick’s delivery is more subdued and it sounds like he is just observing what goes on. On the next track, “m.A.A.d. city,” Kendrick takes many of the concepts of “Good Kid” and expands on them. Comparatively, “Good Kid” is more of a subdued song, while “m.A.A.d. city” is an in your face track where Kendrick showcases his abilities to go in on a hardhitting track. On “m.A.A.d. city,” Kendrick takes on the corruption he has observed all around him as he grew up in Southern California. With this song, it feels that Kendrick is no longer a teenager but is becoming conscious of the social, political and economic inequities that have plagued his community for generations. As he puts into words, “Ak’s, AR’s, ‘Aye y’all. Duck’ / That’s what momma said when we was eatin’ the free lunch / Aw man, God damn, all hell broke loose / You killed my cousin back in ’94. Fuck yo truce.”

Kendrick Lamar’s brilliance on good kid, m.A.A.d. city is the attention to detail and picture he is able to paint about city life, adolescence, gang violence and police brutality. He is able to do this with multi-layered lyricism that pushes the listener to see through his eyes. As the album moves forward, the audience is able to grow with Kendrick and is able to experience what he is saying, not just hear it. I think of Kendrick Lamar’s album similarly to Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A. The 1988 classic shed light on the anger and frustration felt by the people of Compton following the Civil Rights Act of 1964. N.W.A gave a voice to the people of Compton, just like Kendrick Lamar has been able to do. Ultimately, good kid, m.A.A.d. city is the evolution of west coast hip-hop and of what Ice Cube refers to as street knowledge.

Must-Listens

“The Art of Peer Pressure”

“Backseat Freestyle” 

“Good Kid” 

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Film Review: Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap

art-of-rap

By: Gus Navarro 

Within the first five minutes of Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap, the 2012 film by Ice-T, the importance of hip-hop is unmistakable. As Ice-T explains, “I really felt that I had to do this movie because rap music saved my life.” Ice-T, the MC, actor and personality from New Jersey and L.A. doesn’t try to hide anything about his film. Here, Ice-T focuses on what being an MC is all about: it is about the craft of writing verses and the skill it takes to deliver them in the studio and in front of a crowd. What emerges is the artistry contained within the music, the power of writing and an important history lesson about the origins of hip-hop and how it has evolved over time. Ice-T puts this into words, “This movie isn’t about the money, the cars, the jewelry, the girls; this film is about the craft.” In order to educate people on the craft, Ice-T sits down and talks with legends of hip-hop.

Mixed with artistic overhead shots of New York, Detroit and Los Angeles, this film contains interviews from the various legends that transformed rap music. Ice-T sits down with MCs and producers such as Grandmaster Caz, Afrika Bambaata, Rakim, Nas, DJ Premier, Chuck D, Ice Cube, KRS-One, Dr. Dre, Royce da 5’9”, Eminem, Immortal Technique, Yasiin Bey, Big Daddy Kane, Raekwon and Melle Mel, and talks to them about their favorite artists and verses of all time, their writing process and what hip-hop means to them. With this movie you get the feeling that Ice-T decided to be generous and allow you to sit in and get a glimpse at the lives of rap royalty. It’s amazing to hear Rakim talk about growing up, inspired by listening to the jazz his mother would play. With The Art Of Rap, Ice-T makes it possible to know more about the MCs behind the verses we know and love. Not only that, we also get the privilege of seeing almost every MC in the movie do an a cappella verse where they showcase their talent with words. It is a sight to behold as Nas, Immortal Technique, Yasiin Bey and Eminem drop rhyme after rhyme straight from the dome. The best part of this film is learning about the writing process of each MC.

For example, Dana Dane, the MC from New York, talks about how he writes verses:

“The way I write rhymes is kind of crazy too, because I write the story first.  Not even as a rhyme, I just write the story-I guess it’s from school-and I write the introduction, I write the body, and the conclusion.  I always write the conclusion first, I always know where my story is going to end before I even start writing it.”

Dana Dane is engaged in the practice of literacy and makes it possible to get a glimpse into the amount of work it takes to write a truly masterful verse. Grandmaster Caz, an extremely influential MC, is shown working on a verse multiple times. Between hits from a blunt, he is seen writing on a notepad, whispering the words to himself. It may seem that MCs always have the words–in some cases they do–but it also takes a lot of effort to write high-quality rhymes. In the film, every MC has a different writing process and a different opinion on hip-hop. However, what surfaces across the board is the social context from which hip-hop originated.

The first interviewee is Lord Jamar from Brand Nubian. In this interview he describes where hip-hop came from:

“We created something from nothing with hip-hop. With the whole spirit of what hip-hop is. It was at a time when they were taking instruments and shit out of the schools and all of that type of shit. See, black people used to be pretty musical back in the day. It wasn’t unusual for a motherfucker to know how to play the piano or guitar or some sort of horn or some shit like that. At some point, all of that shit was removed from us. Through economics, cutting things outta schools and all that. So they try to take the music from us when we had created an original American music, which was jazz. So what did we do? We had no fucking instruments, no horns, no drums, we’re living in the fucking city and all this, we ain’t got room for that shit anywhere up in the projects or wherever the fuck you’re huddled in at. So what did we do? We took the fucking record player, the only thing that’s playing music in our fucking crib and turned it into an instrument.”

Hip-hop happened because it had to, because it was a way to resist the continued racial oppression that people of color faced following the Civil Rights Era. Similar to today, the funds for the fine arts are being removed from places that need it most. Hip-hop won’t die because it is an art form of resistance. As long as oppression and injustice remain, hip-hop will as well. Hip-hop is a means of agency and self-determination and Ice-T’s film embodies this spirit.

If you are looking to learn more about hip-hop culture and its impact on society, Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap is worth watching. Containing countless interviews with renowned artists, Ice-T’s film highlights the skill needed to be an MC, the history of hip-hop and how it is a form of resistance. Ice Cube refers to his style of hip-hop as “Street Knowledge.” Street knowledge is about, “Letting the streets know what the politicians is trying to do to them. And then, letting the politicians know what the streets think of them, if they listening.” This is an essential point to make in that it grounds hip-hop within the political, social and economic contexts of our communities. This takes hip-hop to another place in that it is directly influenced by the living conditions of the artists and their communities. Ultimately, Ice-T’s film is about the craft of rapping, for which he makes this very clear.  However, it is also a testament to the worldview that is hip-hop.

Check out the trailer for Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap below!

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The American C.R.E.A.M. Series (Part Two)

Photo credit: Carlos Nunez

Photo credit: Carlos Nunez

Periodically, Bonus Cut writer Victor Anderson will be sharing his American C.R.E.A.M. Series, a story where hip-hop is just the tip of the iceberg.

…continued from Chapter One: The Bloch Motel

Three days had passed since I first laid eyes on the intriguing creature named Talia. She had moved in to the room next to mine, Room 11. I couldn’t help but wonder who she was and why she was there. There was only room in this motel for one long lasting tenant and that was me. I knew my reasons for staying at The Bloch but what could her excuse be? Was she running from something or hiding out? It was hard to say because her visiting hours to Room 11 were random and nearly unpredictable.

During the day she was comfortably clothed in band t-shirts, tank tops, denim jeans and sneakers. At night it was a different story. She was dolled up and was dressed to impress.

I’m sure to her my existence was as unknown as an undiscovered species in an arctic jungle, but I didn’t mind, I enjoyed being the man behind the two-way mirror. But I knew one day I wouldn’t be able to settle for just being the observer, I needed to take action and fast because I had no clue how long she was planning on sticking around. But as often as I dreamt about our potential interaction, I was not prepared for what was to come.

I think it was the second day of Talia staying there when I went down to the manager’s office to ask him a few questions about her. He went by the name of Curly and he was a rather plump individual with a certain bubbliness about him. We shared a few moments together throughout my first week at the motel; getting coffee and paying nightly visits to the local strip joint up the road. He seemed to like me because he was always buying me drinks and dances. He wanted to get me laid, so anytime an attractive young lady would check into the motel, he would text me their name and room number. Now that I think about it, Curly must have been the clever mastermind behind Talia’s room assignment.

Anyways, I’m chatting with Curly asking him what she’s like and all I really got out of him was that she was pretty quiet but possessed a set of flirtatious eyes. “If only I was 20 years younger and a few pounds lighter, I would’ve pursued that pudding pop,” he would say. He also mentioned that she seemed a bit anxious and happened to be a bit on the sarcastic side.

Curly did his best to help me understand her but if I wanted to get to know this character, I’d have to do it myself. Unfortunately, she was not around at this point during the evening.

Suddenly, we were interrupted by the rapid mashing of the bell on the check-in counter. Curly shouted from his office to notify the new tenant that he was on his way but he soon changed his tone and agitated facial expression half-way out of the door when he notice the woman in front of the counter. She happened to be a tan, young, attractive blonde from Florida and was dressed accordingly. Curly peeked back into his office only to deliver me a wink, signaling that she was some sort of hottie. “How can I cater to your needs, ma’am,” he spurted out as he assumed his position behind the counter.

I exited Curly’s office only to pass this short-haired bleach blonde whose elbows were resting on the counter. The curvature from her back to her ass was impeccable. Her malty pupils met mine and I bashfully averted my eyes to the displeasing carpet. I glanced back for one more peek before I left. She noticed and responded with a shy grin. I’m sure Curly put in a good word for me so I could gamble that the cards might be in my favor on this one. I posted up outside of the office to smoke a cigarette and found myself enjoying the chilled breeze. I was preparing for my possible encounter with Florida by trying my best to embody my inner Cary Grant. His cunning charm and wittiness is definitely how he got the ladies in the pictures, so I was sure it would work for me.

Florida, or Drew as she liked to be called, stepped from the office into the outside air with her round Samsonite suitcase in one hand and her room key in the other. These room keys had large diamond shaped key chains attached to them with the room number imprinted on it. Hers was 7. She kindly greeted me and proceeded to leave distance between us until I caught up with her and offered to carry her key. She thought I was going to say bag and then giggled at my lame attempts at a joke. She invited me in and I would’ve been a fool to refuse. She wasted no time and immediately began to jump on the bed as if it was a trampoline. I stood there watching and laughing because I didn’t know what else to do. I was really concerned that if I joined the fun, the bed would collapse and I don’t think Curly would’ve been able to afford it. Soon she collapsed onto the mattress and admitted that this was one of her rituals when entering any bedroom.

Her position on the bed was similar to that of a pinup model. As she spoke, I admired her beach-surfer body and was distracted by the golden thighs that sprouted from her cut-off jeans. She had my attention and I was soon invited to join her on the bed. I made no moves but I was putting in the ground work through general conversation about her whereabouts.

Strangely, she was on her way to British Columbia, Canada to begin a grow operation with a gentleman she had met online. She was the most attractive botanist that I had ever seen. She had been growing marijuana since the age of 16 after living with her drug-dealing uncle who knew a lot of shady and dangerous characters. She began an intimate relationship with a man twice her age that cultivated copious amounts of marijuana crops. She eventually surpassed her teacher before he was seized by the DEA and began inventing her own strains of the plant but for her own use. Soon, she figured out the potential profit for her creation and is now on the journey to her cousins up north to cash out on her cash crop. Needless to say we got really baked in her car that night.

I invited her to my room for a drink and a movie. I wanted to introduce her to Federico Fellini since we were under the influence and could possibly enjoy the experience of an artistic, experimental or baroque film. We sat on the bed with our backs against the headboard and I hit play on my computer to commence the screen staring. Unfortunately, these films aren’t for everybody and she began to nod off. She fought the battle to stay awake and ultimately gave in to the unconscious urge. Fortunately for me, her head collapsed onto my lap. I was in an odd predicament but I did the nice thing and rubbed her back to wake her up. She didn’t move her head but she began to hum and purr out of enjoyment. Then she started to maneuver her hand towards my thigh and it continued to escalate until the laptop was on the ground, along with our clothes. I had entered the golden gates and I was in heaven. I’m not even sure if Fellini got laid because of Casanova but I wish I could thank him. The film is damn near three hours and we were just finishing up by the time the credits rolled. She left shortly after to get some rest before her drive in the morning. I walked her to the door and received a goodnight smooch before she trotted away and down the steps. I treated myself to a cigarette while I was outside and from my peripheral I noticed her coming back up the stairs but I didn’t want to turn my head and seem eager. I just waited until I felt a touch on my shoulder or something but to my surprise, it wasn’t Drew, it was Talia getting back from where ever she had come from. I turned to see her and she smirked at me as she unlocked her door. I didn’t take my eyes off of her until the door to Room 11 had sealed shut.

To be continued…

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Album of the Week: “Illadelph Halflife” by The Roots

illadelph

The Roots
Illadelph Halflife
DGC/Geffen/MCA, 1996

Daniel’s Thought

To me, The Roots have always been a distinct fire in hip-hop; a group that defied hip-hop’s boundaries while at the same time pushing their own expansive logic. You can point to their live instrumentation and raw approach to the game as their most redeeming quality, but to forgo their profound lyrics or collective base is a crime The Roots should never be punished for. In fact, it’s this very conglomerate of attributes that makes this crew from Philadelphia so memorable. As the swirling guitar swells and organic echoes jump under inspirational Thought and company, we as critics run out of words to say to further praise The Roots’ movement within the culture. Moreover, as we scan through the monstrous discography The Roots call a career, nothing is more evident than the fact that their eclectic collection of cuts spanning from 1987 to 2013 has pushed hip-hop music and logical reasoning in discussion to new heights. Their 1996 classic Illadelph Halflife is a prime example of this, as it shifts between sonic stages of sound and presents politically conscious content in a veritable format.

1996 was a year that witnessed Bill Clinton’s re-election, peace and elections in Bosnia, the advancement against AIDS and the election of Boris Yeltsin, among many other notable stories—in fact, the bombing of a U.S. base in Saudi Arabia and the centennial Olympic games often flow under the radar. In response, Illadelph Halflife acts as a social commentary on these stories while further slinging an invective slug at capitalism, death and love. Driven mainly by Black Thought and Malik B, the content on this album sprays like a unique arrangement of originality mixed with philosophy that shreds the confines of what is considered “traditional hip-hop.” Backed by featured artists such as extended Roots member Dice Raw, along with contributions from Common, Q-Tip and Ursula Rucker, Illadelph’s verbal presence is enticing to the tenth degree.

On one of the more cutting tracks off of the album, a song that squeaks and lounges like a silent car ride through America, “No Alibi” showcases Black Thought and Malik B admitting that they are reflections of their environment while touching on worldwide storylines. With Malik’s verse, he opens the curtains to the shelves encasing his own mind (“Look into my window, tell me what you see / The m-ilitant school of philosophy / When niggas get dealt with mental velocity / Connect my sentences and thoughts like apostrophes” … “My attitude is scarred by this inner-city urban / Iller dolo stress on my brain just like a turban”). With Black Thought’s bars, he uses real-world events as analogies to his delivery and stature (“On a lyrical Nat Turner mission reaction off of intuition / Continuously alert, no intermission” … “Step up into my crevice and taste the medicine of the champagne / King like Evelyn leaving you leveled and sabotaged / It’s all camouflage like the devil and guns / And coke peddling, Olympic medaling flashback / That of a war veteran blast at / The programmer bringing lashes ‘cross your back”)

While “No Alibi” tackles vocalization on social constructs, “The Hypnotic” revolves around inner-personal themes on love and death under the crushing fists of society. Lines like, “But as time float on we grew more mature / And further apart when I began to do tours / We lost contact and slowly parted / reminiscing of when it started,” and “I said ‘yo Palma when did you last see Alana?’ / He offer me a seat in attempts to make me calmer / When he began to break it down my mind start to wander / Response beyond somber incredible crushed” represent love, drifting and death, while “But she a victim of the wicked system that controlled her,” finally reveals the cyclical effect that haunts and crushes so many dreams.

Illadelph Halflife would be a memorable album on content alone, but like all other Roots albums, Halflife is an ever-revolving sphere that consists of both meaning and sound. Lead single “Clones” is backed by a shadowy piano progression that sounds like a RZA-lead sample, while M.A.R.S, Black Thought, Dice Raw and Malik B exchange verses on the fly; “Episodes” trail blazes a unique sound with backing female vocals, sparse horns, organ keys that plink and flutter and a vocoder style introduction; and “Concerto of Desparado” sways with stretched background vocals, a strong string selection and an overall sound that mirrors that of Jedi Mind Tricks and Army of the Pharaohs. “The implorer, the universe explorer,” Black Thought states. “Treat MCs like the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah / Leaving these niggas open like a box of Pandora / With styles that’s newer than the World Order.”

On the vast canvas of The Roots’ career, Illadelph Halflife is just one example of the collective’s empowering influence, but in 1996 it stood as a monumental record for many reasons. Not only does it sooth the soul and calm the mind, it implores listeners to analyze and assist. This combination, mixed with the lucid stream of musical output, makes Illadelph Halflife an artistic progression for hip-hop in all realms and cements The Legendary Roots Crew as a driving force in its ever-changing culture.

Gus’ Thought

Released in 1996, Illadelph Halflife by The Roots begins with multiple sound bites from a radio special named Hip-Hop 101: On The Road With The Roots that aired in 1996. From there, the third studio album by the legendary hip-hop band from Philly is off and running with smooth grooves, reflective beats and jazzy piano and guitar riffs. On this particular album, the versatility of The Roots is very apparent as the group begins to develop into more than a group that plays and imitates samples. Don’t get me wrong: the imitation of samples by The Roots pioneered the live-band element that is now seen throughout hip-hop. However, at the time their first album Organix was released in 1993, there was nothing like them. Still, only three years later, the band’s 1993 sound is far, far different than their 1996 sound. Illadelph Halflife highlights the musical growth of the group in only three relatively short years.

The first full-length song, “Respond-React” opens with a four-on-the-floor pattern from Questlove’s kick drum. Right away, it is clear that the group is on point and MCs Black Thought and Malik B. have much to say and are ready to say it. Thought’s first couple of lines are, “It’s just—hip-hop hangin’ in my head heavy / Malik said: ‘Riq, you know the planet ain’t ready for the half’ when we comin’ with the action pack / On some Dundee shit representin’ the outback.” And then later, Malik B explains, “M-ILL-TANT, feel the 5th guerilla chant / Y’all talk about bodies but you would not kill a ant / My skill is amp, would peel a nigga like a stamp / Caliber is of Excalibur now you be damp.” Both MCs’ gift for words are on full display on this song, and it continues until the end of the album.

From the in your face, take no prisoners attitude of “Respond-React,” the group takes us to a more reflective place with songs such as “It Just Don’t Stop” and “What They Do.” Both of these songs are highly critical of the society that we live in. With the hook of “It Just Don’t Stop” Malik B. asserts, “This world is filled with homicide and rape / All the crimes of hate just ain’t the size and shape / You can walk down the block and get slumped or knocked / It don’t stop y’all and it just don’t stop.” And then on “What They Do,” the band is highly critical of the music industry. “Lost generation, fast paced nation / World population confront they frustration / The principles of true hip-hop have been forsaken / It’s all contractual and about money makin.” “What They Do” finishes with the band jamming together for last 1:30 of the song. This is important to note as this type of jam would give way to multiple songs the band would later make such as “I Can’t Help It” from Rising Down and “Make My” from Undun.

Backed by the rhythm section of Questlove, Hub and Kamal, Illadelph Halflife flows seamlessly from slower reflective joints, to bangers that showcase the lyricism of Black Thought, Malik B, Dice Raw, Common and even Q-Tip. Just when you thought you had enough, spoken-word artist Ursula Rucker is there on “Adventures In Wonderland” to read one of her poems, making you think even deeper about the message of this album. In many ways, Illadelph Halflife underscores the greatness of The Roots. They make great music that makes you nod your head in appreciation, all the while delivering lyrics soaked with consciousness and creativity. With this album, you can hear the band changing and becoming even more versatile. On Illadelph Halflife, the foundation for albums such as Things Fall Apart, The Tipping Point, Rising Down, and Undun is being laid.

Must-Listens:

“What They Do” 

“Clones” 

“The Hypnotic” 

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