Daniel’s Starting Five
I’ve found it incredibly difficult to keep up with new music ever since high school. When I was a teenager at East Lansing High, I had just as much focus on new releases and new artists as I did on schoolwork. Whether that was the most beneficial thing for me at the time is yet to be seen, but I don’t regret it; I was a music nerd.
Since then, my focus has shifted. No longer able to put forth the necessary attention and work into new releases–along with the fact that there are bigger things out there that I care about–I’ve tried to at least manage some sort of connect with the rapid-changing face of pop culture. Here at Bonus Cut our mission is to focus on hip-hop culture, current events, community building, independent artists making a difference on all facets, hip-hop education, the four pillars, unity and love. We have stressed time and time again that “new hip-hop music releases” isn’t our goal, and it never will be, but there are still instances where there’s an important new hip-hop cut that can’t be ignored.
On that note, I will be sharing some projects that have been released this year that I feel deserve attention. Whether for their cultural impact or musical fluidity, these are songs and albums I’ve stumbled upon that shouldn’t be passed up.
“Life of Pi” by Rapsody & Blu
“Life of Pi” is a short snippet, but packed into a three-minute track is raw energy. Rapsody’s presence, like always, is dominant and commanding, further proving how well she can manage a track, and her flow is appealing with a mix of sincere honesty (“I never lost the love from a cub I had to mistletoe/ Kiss ‘em goodbye, I cry but I don’t miss ‘em though”).
Compared to a majority of his past projects, Blu is fittingly aggressive here. Under the song’s trance you can literally hear him spit through his verse, on the verge of tearing the mic up himself: “You await, with a lion in your face, in the center of troubled waters.”
The hook on “Life of Pi” is fitting, with Rapsody’s straight-forward message: “Keep yo head above water, we all there.”
“#dearDilla” by Phife Dawg
A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg released “#dearDilla” as a tribute to his friend and peer J Dilla (James Dewitt Yancey). The song plays out like a written letter, where Phife tells Dilla about music these days and how the community isn’t the same (“Come back to earth homie, hip-hop is in ruins/ I’m a third of the Tribe but Imma speak for the click/ What up though we miss you kid”). With DJ Rasta Root behind the 1s and 2s, and a hook contribution from Q-Tip, what more can I say?
Mandala Vol. 1, Polysonic Flows and Mandala Vol. 2, Today’s Mathematics by Mello Music Group
Mello Music Group’s 2014 collaborative opus is split into two separate records, and both feed off of each other to create one of the best music releases so far. The artists go on and on (Oddisee, Has-Lo, Castle, Apollo Brown, Ugly Heroes, Quelle Chris, yU, Open Mike Eagle, L’Orange, Stik Figa, Murs, Gensu Dean, Verbal Kent, Milo, Duke Westlake and many more significant artists), and with such a versatility, the Mandala tapes go unmatched as far as hopscotching across different content.
Moleskines and Pocket Squares by James Gardin & Trebles and Blues
Our friend James Gardin recently released his EP Moleskines and Pocket Squares, and on it he is joined by L.A.’s Trebles and Blues. Moleskines and Pocket Squares is wonderfully packaged, as it takes you on a journey through emotion, love, sadness and truth. Between the lyrical lines, Trebles and Blues sets the tone, with a somber yet strong backdrop, and James takes this full on with a piece worth vibing, smiling or crying to; there’s a lot of content within this five song set.
“Selah” was the single released before the EP drop, and it still might be the best song here, but it could go any five ways. I can’t say this about many EPs, strictly because an EP can hinder creative diversity and settings, but Moleskines and Pocket Squares defies that, with a broad range of hip-hop emotion.
Pinata by Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
You saw this coming right?
Perhaps the best record out right now, Pinata is an ode to collaboration. It’s not like Madlib’s partners for projects are exactly like him, but at least with Madvillain or Jaylib, there were distinct similarities to where you could group them all on the same hip-hop branch. With Freddie Gibbs however, Madlib is collaborating with Gary, Indiana’s son that slings 80s gangsta renaissance rap, laying claim to hip-hop’s straight-in-your-face style. This is what makes Pinata even more impressive: with these two different hip-hop styles converging for a record, the ability to pull off a successful feat is that much more unlikely.
Oh how successful this has been.
Almost as if both Gangasta Gibbs and The Loop Digga holed up in an underground bunker together for two years to make this work, the perfection behind the chemistry here is flawless. ‘Lib’s lush and dusty grooves strike with cutting violin swells and synth sample hoorahs, all while Gibbs keeps on supplying street poetry without even taking a breath. It shouldn’t be this easy, and yet these two make it so.
Gus’ Starting Five
L’Orange — “Mind vs Matter”
L’Orange’s new album, Orchid Days, was just released yesterday and as per usual, it bangs. It bangs with a certain speakeasy swankiness that is a perfect combination of old and new. This particular album is about the journey of love and the way that emotions are constantly in motion. On “Mind vs Matter” the horns blare, the drums shuffle and Homeboy Sandman drops by with a robotic verse of epic proportions.
Nas — “N.Y. State of Mind”
Nas recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of his now legendary record, Illmatic. “N.Y. State Of Mind” is the second track on this album and is the song that got my attention and really drew me to this classic. The dark piano riff lured me in and when you add Nas’ quick-fire, cohesive storytelling, it doesn’t get much better.
“I never sleep cause sleep is the cousin of death.”
Money Makin’ Jam Boys — “Philadelphia Zoo”
Philly’s finest MCs, the MMJB, consist of Black Thought, Truck North, Dice Raw, STS and P.O.R.N. For whatever reason, I vividly remember the day they put out their mixtape, The Prestige. It was a blistery winter day in 2011 and I had an exam that I was almost late for because I was busy downloading this bad boy. I uploaded it onto my iPod and I was off to class, straight BUMPIN. There is no doubt this tape got me ready for that test. “Philadelphia Zoo” is the joint where Black Thought adds to the many examples of why he is one of the most talented MCs of all time.
Kool G Rap — “Money on my Brain”
First of all, this track samples “Chameleon” by Herbie Hancock, possibly one of the funkiest tracks of all time. Plus, you have Kool G Rap going in on some classic 90’s style cuts. Money is most definitely on Kool G’s mind and how he is able to paint this particular picture is just worth the listen.
Gensu Dean & Planet Asia — “Faces On The Dollar”
Gensu and Planet Asia clearly have a chemistry that is infectious. Gensu lays down this hard-hitting beat with an ascending bass line that keeps it all moving. Enter Planet Asia who does what he does best, laying it down.