The Starting Five

A musical rotation of what Bonus Cut is currently digging this week

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2014

March 12th: IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE OUR LAST STARTING FIVE. SINCERE APOLOGIES, WE’VE BEEN SWAMPED WITH CURRENT AND FUTURE WORKS! That said, alas, here are some tunes for yall.

Castle – “Krillz”
“Just being honest I ain’t got police pursuing me/ That’s why I feel guilt I dropped college and opportunity.”

Scarface – “No Tears”
I’m pretty sure we’ve gone over “No Tears” before, but the Scarface legend, along with the Geto Boys’, can never be stopped. Houston hip-hop arguably started with the Geto Boys, and it was mostly their influence alone that helped propel the city to the heights it’s at now.

3rd Bass – “The Gas Face”
People often overlook MC Serch, and the love for him isn’t enough. Perhaps 3rd Bass’ most popular song, “The Gas Face” tackles whack MCs, rivals, style and most importantly, racism (something that MC Serch goes in on exclusively during his verse). Just as important, look at who MC Serch brings in. First, there’s Prince Paul, then Reggie Osse (aka Combat Jack), and then a very young MF DOOM (his first studio song) who goes under the moniker Zev Love X for the group KMD. So let me get this straight: MC Serch brought in Nas AND DOOM? Yeah, I’d say he’s pretty important based on those facts alone.

Qwel & Maker – “Pitching Pennies”
“Pitching Pennies” is that lovely song you trod to during a spring day, or when you’re about to enter a jazz club. With revolving horns and screeching, “Pitching Pennies” is a brisk foray into the musical realms a hip-hop song can encompass. Here it’s definitely evident, but not overly done, so it’s at that perfect level of zen. 

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – “Thuggin”
This album is about to be ridiculous. 

L’Orange – “Need You (feat. Blu)”
First off, a big congratulations to L’Orange for his recent three-album signing to Mello Music Group. It’s well deserved and long overdue. Now, to the music. Wait, just go ahead and listen. Don’t be shy.

January 15th:
Gus’ Starting Five

Guru – “Trust Me”
“The things I feel, they are for real/ I’m past the point of dwelling on the sex appeal”

Athletic Mic League – “Got Em Sayin’”
Some classic Michigan based hip-hop from 10+ years ago. Oh, and Invincible is on this one!

Common – “Dooinit”
I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the clap/snap used for the snare hits on this bad boy. It’s the swankiest.

yU – “Close”
Everything about this song. Everything.

Lupe Fiasco – “Gotta Eat
“Streets be all like, ‘Feed me, feed me’/ When niggas gotta eat, that’s when shit get’s greasssyyyyyy”

 Daniel’s Starting Five

R.A. the Rugged Man – “The Dangerous 3 (feat. Brother Ali & Masta Ace)”
Probably the best song off of Legends Never Die.

Czarface – “Savagely Attack” 
Slept on record as far as 2013. One of the best.

Sweatshop Union – “Oh My”
Unfortunate for me, I couldn’t afford to be fortunate/ Shit more like the kid misfortune never missed/ According to the landlord I’m poor as piss/ Trying to get this porridge recording hits

J Dilla – “Last Donut of the Night”
Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest.

Epik High – “I Remember (feat. Kensie)”
Do you remember?

2013

December 27th:
Gus’ Starting Five

Gift Of Gab – “So So Much”
If Gab’s words and this beat don’t make you smile and want to dance I’m not sure what will.

Common – “Chi-City”
A black figure…in the middle with chaos and gunfire/ So many raps about rims, surprised niggas ain’t become tires/ On the street you turn cold and then go screech/ I tell ’em “fuck ’em” like I do to police

Diamond District – “Something For Y’all”
Oddisee continually shows his versatility and that if he’s involved with a project, it’s going to be hot.

Hassaan Mackey & Apollo Brown – “Dollar Bill Hill”
Mackey’s voice fits perfectly with Brown’s beats. Or, is it that Brown’s fit perfectly with Mackey’s voice?

This track is deep.

Clipse – “Grindin’”
Patty cake, patty cake, I’m the baker’s man/ I bake them cakes as fast as I can/ And you can tell by how my bread stack up/ Then disguise it as raps so the feds back up.”

This is just a classic.

Daniel’s Starting Five

For my starting five this week I’m sharing my five most-played tracks of the year. They’re probably all repeats of past S5 songs.

Black Milk – “Monday’s Worst”

Qwel & Maker – “Beautiful Raw” 

Oddisee – “Yeezus Was a Mortal Man”

Joey Bada$$ – “Unorthodox” 

R.A. the Rugged Man – “Learn Truth (feat. Talib Kweli)”

December 18th: 
Gus’ Starting Five

Gus was absent. He really was.

Daniel’s Starting Five

Qwel & Maker – “Beautiful Raw” 
One of the best hip-hop joints of 2013. Let me repeat that again. ONE OF THE BEST HIP-HOP JOINTS OF 2013.

Jay Electronica – “Jazzmatazz (Guru Tribute)” 
“You may be tired but I spit what I’m inspired/ From the Lord of the worlds cause the Devil is a liar” 

Digable Planets – “9th Wonder”
“93 million miles above these devils” 

Verbal Kent – “TAKE (prod. Pete Rock)”
One of Verbal Kent’s most vicious songs lyrically. His battle rhythm mentality cuts oh so swift and his love for “real hip-hop” gives me hope.

Ugly Heroes – “Long Drive Home” 
Speaking of Verbal Kent… After all the praise here from Bonus Cut, that just doesn’t cut. UGLY HEROES WAS ONE OF THE BEST HIP-HOP ALBUMS OF 2013.

December 11th: 
Gus’ Starting Five

Curren$y – “Talk My Shit”
Sometimes you just gotta talk that shit.

Danger Doom – “Crosshairs”
Ahhhh the production. Too good.

Jay Electronica – “I Feel Good”
I will feel good like Jay when finals are over.

Jean Grae – “You Don’t Want It”
Welcome to the mind of the sickest motherfucker on Earth/ Worse than the brain damage suffered at birth, dropped/ I’m dangerous, you’re like the stuff in your anus.”

Mibbs (of Pac Div) – “Crack”
“You’re scaring all the white people”

Daniel’s Starting Five

Jon Connor – “Rise Up (feat. Talib Kweli)”
Uba picked this song for his Jon Connor write-up. Props to Uba. Props to Jon Connor. Props to Talib Kweli.

MC Lyte – “Paper Thin” 
But if it doesn’t work out, yo it just doesn’t/ It wasn’t meant to be you know, it just wasn’t/ So I treat all of you like I treat all of them/ What you say to me is still paper thin

Joey Bada$$ – “Word Is Bond”
Word is bond.

Shaggy – “Keep ‘N It Real” 
No matter how inside you’re blue/ There’s always someone who has it worse than you/ Sometimes you gotta pay your dues/ So don’t worry just push on through

To all my homies working on the 9 to 5/ And doing right to keep themselves up out of trouble

The Ronettes – “Be My Baby” 
I can’t stress enough how important groups like The Ronettes (from New York City) and The Supremes (from Detroit) were in the 60’s. Their legacy strength is that they’re just as important today. Every once in a while I’ll be talking to a friend or a stranger about vinyl, and they ask me what I think they should start off with. Every damn time I will suggest doo-wop soul groups like these.

Daniel and Gus took a week off and the 12/4/13 Starting Five can be seen here! 

November 13th:
Gus’ Starting Five

Big Boi – “General Patton”
I think we all know the best part of this track is the sample of “Vieni, O Guerriero Vindice”

Chance The Rapper – “Juice”
Put this on and vibe out. It’s so “Jonny Wright”

Stik Figa – Space Madness
Is this track remixed by L’Orange the start of The City Under The City???

Truck North – “Rock N Rolla”
No brakes on the road to the riches, so it’s more murder to make/ More money and more bitches/ But I’m somewhere between the ceiling and the fixture/ The chemical imbalance, guess they did not like the mixture

BADBADNOTGOOD – “Camel”
Time to just sit back and cool out.

Daniel’s Starting Five

Oddisee – “Scenic Route To You”
Traveling on a scenic route to you.

Reks – Judas
Haters hate, lovers love.

Madlib – “Black Widow”
Crazy.

Peanut Butter Wolf – “Breaks Em Down”
Break down your mental frustration.

Oddisee – “Yeezus Was a Mortal Man”
Niggas want bring the 90’s back/ I’m still using 70’s slang, that shit behind me jack/ Born in the 80’s Ronald Reagan tried to slide me crack/ The walking dead was hunted by Feds, yo where the lively at?

November 6th: 
Gus’ Starting Five

Talib Kweli – “In The Red”
It’s so cool that this dude was in Lansing, MI last week!

If you in the resistance than this your soundtrack

The Beast – “Get Out of Town”
The Beast is another great example of the fusion between jazz and hip-hop. Oh, and Phonte is on this one. Listen up!

Carlos Santana – “Do You Like The Way”
There are so many amazing guests on Santana’s Supernatural. On this particular track, Lauryn Hill and Cee-Lo Green stop by. This song and record is one that I will always associate with my dad and my childhood.

Black Milk – “Losing Out”
Always good music coming out of Detroit.

Apollo Brown & OC – “The First”
The sample of “White Room” by Cream on this track is great. On top of that, you should take the time to listen to this entire record, Trophies. Apollo Brown does it again as OC goes in on every track; no guest appearances.

Daniel’s Starting Five

Souls of Mischief – “Let ‘Em Know” 
A straight spectacle as far as hip-hop music. Souls of Mischief forever.

Gensu Dean & Planet Asia – “Listen” 
90’s inspired production mixed with the legend Planet Asia and his descriptive wordplay? I’ll take a copy please.

James Gardin (formerly known as P.H.I.L.T.H.Y.) – “Live Yo Life”
I remember this was the first joint I heard from James. It must have been early high school. I still carry it with me though. Live yo life.

Red Pill & Hir-O – “Hir-O Told Me (feat. Greenlee)”
I can’t get over how amazing Hir-O is when he throws together this sort of stuttering/experimental production. It’s an odd mix of everything; the percussion reminds me of DJ Shadow’s stuff, the buzzing swells are gritty and rough and the background echoes make this track majestic. Of course, Red Pill delivers like he always does and reminds us never to get in a battle with him.

Wu-Tang Clan – “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber Part 2” 
I like this remix better than the original because it carries itself better…in my opinion. It’s darker, it’s sludgy, it just fits.

October 30th:
Gus’ Starting Five

Pharoahe Monch – “So Good”
One of the more sensual and spiritual joints out there from one of the better MC’s out there.

Stephen Marley – “Hey Baby”
“Hey baby don’t you worry even though the road is rocky, I’ll be coming home to you again.”

Talib Kweli – “Good To You”
Swooping the industry, like a bird to prey/ My stanzas has got stamina, ya verses lack vertebrae/ I heard them say I was a conscious rapper/ But I’m a monster when I hafta smack the shit out of a nonsense actor

Kweli, ‘02! ERWA

Lupe Fiasco – “Daydreamin”
But not too loud cause the baby’s sleeping/ I wonder if it knows what the world is keeping?” Oh yeah, and Jill Scott stops by for a bit on this one.

Schoolboy Q – “Blessed”
Now how the fuck I’m ‘posed to say this?/ You see, my nigga just lost his son while I’m here huggin’ on my daughter/ I grip her harder/ Kiss her on the head as I cry for a bit

It’s good to take stock of your life, the good and bad.

Daniel’s Starting Five

Nujabes – “Feather (feat. Cise Starr and Akin)”
Beautiful hip-hop is beautiful.

Eminem – “Sing for the Moment”
That’s why we sing for these kids who don’t have a thing/ Except for a dream and a fucking rap magazine/ Who post pin-up pictures on they walls all day long/ Idolize they favorite rappers and know all they songs/ Or for anyone who’s ever been through shit in they lives/ So they sit and they cry at night wishing they’d die/ ’til they throw on a rap record and they sit and they vibe

Bishop Nehru – “Elder Blossoms” 
This guy’s 17.

Aesop Rock – “Attention Span (feat. Vast Aire)”
My first Aesop Rock song ever. At some point in high school I was obsessed with the flow and beat for months…

Company Flow – “8 Steps to Perfection”
One of the most important hip-hop records of the late 90s.

October 23rd:
Gus’ Starting Five

Dessa – “Dixon’s Girl”
One of my favorite things about Dessa’s music is the passion she puts into her lyrics.

Oddisee – “Yeah and Nah”
Behind a fresh new beat from the free mixtape, Tangible Dream, the complexities of life are revealed. “Am I in it for the fame? Yeah and Nah/ Do I care if you know my name? Yeah and Nah.

ANTHM – “Self Esteem”
Society’s got me feelin’ like Atlas/ World on my back, finally practice like Baptist

L’Orange & Stik Figa – “One of Them”
From their recent album, this track sounds like what I would have wanted The Great Gatsby movie with Leo Dicaprio to sound like. It’s so damn swanky and worth listening to.

Yasiin Bey – “Fear Not Of Man”
In my opinion, this is one of Bey’s best tracks. The beginning is so important as he explains how we should make sense of hip-hop, where its been and where its going.

Daniel’s Starting Five

Black Milk – “Sunday’s Best” and “Monday’s Worst”
I’m cheating here with two songs, but they should be one track. On “Sunday’s Best”, Curtis Cross aka Black Milk talks about strong religious ties among families in the city, however as the song goes on, he further explains that no matter how much religious upbringing a kid has, the environment ultimately has a bigger sway on the mind (“a youngin’ went down that wrong path/ no matter how religious moms and pops was”). Fast forward some years and you get “Monday’s Worst”, where the kid is older and falling to mainstream hip-hop and radio stereotypes (defining oneself through guns, money, violence, drugs). Here, Black Milk paints the picture of a weak-minded fool, and how by falling to this you as an individual undermine your own potential while at the same time perpetuating the negative effects of the mainstream.

Guilty Simpson & Large Professor – “I’m The City (feat. Boldy James & Statik Selektah)”
It’s not necessarily the bars that are being spit, but the production and turntablism are ill. I’m surprised hip-hop heads haven’t jumped on this EP that much.

L’Orange & Stik Figa – “We Were Heroes”
This whole album is a breathtaking walk inside hip-hop noir. You can feel the feels, you can visualize the scenes and you can script out your own plot to these tunes.

J Dilla – “10,000 Watts”
Just listen why don’t ya.

Duke Ellington – “Mood Indigo”
When I took a trip up to Michigan, I spent some hours crate digging and came away with about a dozen records. Deciding to add to my Duke Ellington collection, I bought a pressing that had “Mood Indigo”. Considering that the song was done in the 30s, I had no idea it was accessible. Anyway, this soothing track reminds me why we continually search for music, why we strive for the feeling, why we connect with it and why we feel such strong emotions.

October 16th:
Gus’ Starting Five

Kanye West – “School Spirit”
Oh Kanye, you make dropping out sound so simple.

Illecism – “I’m An Animal”
If you haven’t heard of this dude, look up his freestyle videos.

Method Man – “P.L.O. Style”
So heavy.

dead prez – “Summer Time”
“Don’t have to wait for holidays to be with friends and families”

My Morning Jacket – “Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Em”
From the recent tribute album, Red Hot & Fela, My Morning Jacket (MMJ) covers a Fela Kuti classic. I chose this song because of its slow paced, Afro-funk grooves beautifully replicated by MMJ but also because of how much Fela did for hip-hop. His music can be heard everywhere within hip-hop through sampling and just the influence he’s had on so many artists. It is very cool to hear this song covered so well by an American group.

Daniel’s Starting Five

I’m cheating the system here, but I’ve been in full zone out mode to Mello Music lately. This is pure hip-hop.

http://www.mellomusicgroup.com/

October 9th: 
Gus’ Starting Five

The Roots – “Now Or Never”
I’m sick, sick of waiting in vain, tired of playing the game/ Thinking of making a change, finally breaking the chains/ Every phase, every happening, craze/ When it’s said and done, my head is right back in a haze/ I’m ready for the next chapter and page to start acting my age/ And part ways with Black Thought from back in the days

Red Pill & Hir-O – “We Are Not Like Them”
An example of the brilliance of Red Pill and Hir-O. Oh by the way, they’re both from Michigan!

Kool G Rap – “Ill Street Blues”
One of my favorite beats of all time. Kool G Rap will forever be one of the best.

K-OS – “Follow Me”
The hook is soulful and the lyrics are on point. What else do you need?

Johnson & Johnson – “Half A Knot”
Some laid back, groove heavy music.

Daniel’s Starting Five

The Pharcyde – “Runnin'” 

So soothing. I could lie down under a tree and listen to this on repeat for an hour.

Del tha Funkee Homosapien – “Proto Culture” 
With the recent release of GTA 5 and all of that hoopla, “Proto Culture” just seems fitting. The Ninja Gaiden reference is pure.

A Tribe Called Quest – “Award Tour” 
I first heard this crusin’ in high school playing hooky for the day just enjoying life. This was the joint. It always has been.

Duke Westlake – “Love Jones”
I wouldn’t even think about sampling Best Coast on a track let alone releasing it. Duke Westlake opens our eyes.

Ghostface KIllah – “Black Out (feat. M.O.P. & Pharoahe Monch)”
Spazz out to this.

October 2nd:
Gus’ Starting Five

Danger Doom – “Bada Bing”
This record and this song never gets old. It’s funny, smart and bangin, need I say more?

Del Tha Funkee Homosapien – “Treats for the Kiddies”
I remember the first time I heard “Del” rapping as Del. I was like, “Oh wait, I KNOW THAT VOICE FROM GORILLAZ!” Then my life changed.

Damian Marley – “All Night”
It’s the vintage shuffle feel that gets me going with this track.

Andrew Milicia – “Books On Tape”
Audio books all day!!!!

Ghostface Killah – “In Tha Park”
Any track with Black Thought goes pretty hard.

Daniel’s Starting Five

Weerd Science – “Girl, Your Baby’s Wormfood”
Taken to an extreme, Josh Eppard talks about that one good friend who knocks up a complete asshat and fails to realize her true self.

Big Pun – “Brave in the Heart (feat. Terror Squad)”
Blazing like Rasheed Wallace

Earl Sweatshirt – “Hive (feat. Casey Veggies & Vince Staples)”
Earl knows how to construct songs, and he knows his hip-hop. (“From a city that’s recession-hit/ With stress niggas could flex metal with, peddle to rake pennies in/ Desolate testaments trying to stay Jekyll-ish/ But most niggas Hyde, and Brenda just stay pregnant/ Breaking news: death’s less important when the Lakers lose/ It’s lead in that baby food, heads try to make it through“)

Phonte – “Eternally (feat. Median)”
Hit em with the buzz with the close-up.

The Bullitts – “They Die By Dawn (feat. Jay Electronica, Lucy Liu & Yasiin Bey)”
One of the best hip-hop songs of the year.

September 25th:
Gus’ Starting Five

Oddisee –“Own Appeal”
The newest track from the DC producer/MC. This dude is always on his game and takes you to another level of consciousness.

Common –“Faithful”
I was rollin’ around, in my mind it occurred/ What if God was a her?

The Roots –“Push Up Ya Lighter”
I can’t believe this album is SEVENTEEN years old as of this past Tuesday!

Outkast –“Player’s Ball”
This is an anthem right here.

The Left –“Gas Mask”
I know Dan will back me up on the fact that this album is so important.

Daniel’s Starting Five

Gang Starr –“The Natural”
I first heard this song on a SPIN Magazine mixtape CD around the start of the millennium, and my introduction to Guru and DJ Premier couldn’t have been any better.

Demigodz –“Dead In The Middle”
And that’s what happens when your rap is vicious/ Sadomachistic, snapping pictures of captured victims/ In my dungeon won’t feed you/ Leave you ’till you’re just a carcass/ Turn a major label rapper back to a starving artist.

Dumbfoundead –“Korean Jesus”
You don’t know who Korean Jesus is?

Immortal Technique –“Harlem Streets”
Innocence devoured like a chicken spot snack box/ Government cocaine cooked into ghetto crack rock/ Corrupt cops false testimony at your arraignment/ Check to check, constant struggle to make the payments/ Working your whole life wondering where the day went/ The subway stays packed like a multi-cultural slave ship/ It’s rush hour, 2:30 to 8, non stoppin’/ And people coming home after corporate share croppin/ And fuck flossin, mothers are trying to feed children/ But gentrification is kicking them out of their building/ A generation of babies born without health care/ Families homeless, thrown the fuck off of the welfare.

The Left –“Statistics (feat. Invincible)”
This album is important.

September 18th:
Gus’ Starting Five

School Boy Q—“Kamikaze”
There’s nothing like cruising around Memphis with this banger on rotation.

Truck North—“Money Ain’t Stoppin’”
They’ll splatter a nigga coat on some PETA shit/ I’m only here for the bread, pita bitch.”

A Tribe Called Quest—“Check The Rhime”
I could highlight some lyrics from this jawn, or you could just listen and just jam out to some Tip and Fife.

Lupe Fiasco—“Kick, Push”
Horns and orchestral samples in a track are the way to my heart. On this jazzy track, Lupe is in classic form as he describes societal rejections and romance.

The Roots—“Essawhamah???”
One of my favorite songs from The Roots of all time, Victor knows what I’m talking about.

Daniel’s Starting Five

Aesop Rock – “Daylight”
Life’s not a bitch, life is a beautiful woman/ You only call her a bitch because she won’t let you get that pussy/ Maybe she didn’t feel y’all shared any similar interests/ Or maybe you’re just an asshole who couldn’t sweet talk the princess

The Roots – “Leonard I-V”
So while I’m sinning you be spinning like a planet

Cannibal Ox – “Pigeon”
Come back to us. This is pure. This has always been pure.

Binary Star – “Honest Expression”
Don’t lie to yourself. Express yourself honestly.

Afu-Ra – “God of Rap”
New visions right here.

September 4th:
Gus’ Starting Five

Blitz The Ambassador—“Dikembe”
Unbelievable blues guitar riff that makes the head nod, over and over. Lets not forget, Blitz’s incredible lyrics and delivery.

Blue Scholars—“The Ave”
The hook, the hook, the hook!

Awon & Phoniks—“Forever Ill”
“I’m high, I’m fly/ Flexin’ hard and I don’t know why/ These niggas wanna hate on me and they bitches wanna skate with me/ I’m so thorough.” Big ups to Tiff the Gift!

K’Naan—“Strugglin’”
“The only break I ever got was at recess/ So legitimately, I remain very little relieved/ Then at thug rappers I remain very little intrigued/ Can you blame me?”

Black Star—“Thieves In The Night”
“Most cats in my area be lovin’ the hysteria/ Synthesized surface conceals the interior/ America, land of opportunity, mirages and camouflages” 

Daniel’s Starting Five

Blu -“My Sunshine (feat. Nia Andrews)”
“I believe in a Heaven and Hell and a presence when I’m breathing the essence.”

Open Mike Eagle -“Middling”
The beat is on, Open Mike Eagle is on, AND THAT COMMUNITY REFERENCE IS ON POINT. “If I could I’d use magic or a time machine/ To rewind the thing/ You wouldn’t want me to, not Inspector Space Time/ Just a normal constable.”

THURZ -“Dope”
This video.

Har Mar Superstar -“Lady, You Shot Me”
“Lady, You Shot Me” is more hip-hop than you may think. It’s soulful with an R&B kick; it ravages the heart with emotion; it blasts you with fulfilling jazz horns; and it’s sincere.

Kendrick Lamar -“The Art of Peer Pressure”
Forget all of the other gems on this record, because “The Art of Peer Pressure” was the track that proved to me good kid, m.A.A.d. city was going to be memorable.

August 21st:
Gus’ Starting Five

L’Orange—“The Audition”
From Old Soul, L’Orange lays down an unbelievable instrumental sampling Billie Holiday.

Yasiin Bey—“Blue Black Jack”
I love when Yasiin bridges other genres with hip-hop.

The Roots—“Game Theory”
Rock bottom where them cops gotta problem at/ Where them outsiders getting popped for they wallet at/ I had nothin but I made somethin outta that/ Now I’m the first out the limo like Charlie Mack

Solillaquists of Sound—“Theory of Proven Threat”
I could listen to Tonya Combs’s voice all day.

Talib Kweli—“Africa Dream”
My favorite Kweli joint of all time.

Daniel’s Starting Five

Nasimiyu -“Rules Aren’t Real”
Don’t be afraid to find your own beliefs.

Pillowfight -“Get Your Shit Together”
Oh yes.

Karriem Riggins -“Virgo”
Detroit jazz and hip-hop artist Karriem Riggins takes influences and meshes them. On “Virgo” you can hear his drumming infused into a Dilla-like head-nodder. It’s a subtle song, but it’s soothing and beautiful.

Apollo Brown and Guilty Simpson -“I Can Do No Wrong”
Truth be told, Dice Game is underrated as hell.

Mood -“Hustle on the Side”
A long lost classic. Produced by Hi-Tek.

August 14th:
Gus’ Starting Five

M.I.A.—“Bingo”
“You drink too much rum / You make me wanna run / I make no assumption / Ass will get the hump on / What’s the point of talkin’ gun?”

Kanye West—“Touch The Sky”
“Guess who’s on third? / Lupe steal like Lupin the 3rd / Here like ear til I’m beer on the curb / Peachfuzz buzz but beard on the verge”—Lupe Fiasco

Gorillaz—“Superfast Jellyfish”
“We be the colors of the mad and the wicked / We be bad, we be brick it.”

dRes—“Rattle”
“Murder city and Philly / Say no more, we wage war / When it rains, the blood pours”—Guilty Simpson

“North Side back on session from the land of free inspection, sex and free weapons / Yup, talk tricky, y’all just talk about the dressin’”—Truck North

D’Angelo—“Left & Right”
“Baby you got me like Joanie had Chachi / Until she got high and went and fucked Potsie.”

Daniel’s Starting Five

Living Legends -“Remember Who You Are”
“If you feel it then love it my friend.”

P.O.S. -“Fuck Your Stuff”
On blast.

Big Sean -“Control (feat. Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica”
I’ve been listening to this because K-Dot’s verse might be the verse of the year and Jay Electronica’s excellent closing verse is basically flying under the radar because, OH MY GOD KENDRICK KILLED IT.

People Under The Stairs -“Acid Raindrops”
If Wes Anderson listens to rap, this is it.

Clipse -“Mr. Me Too”
What the fuck yall been doing?

August 7th:
Gus’ Starting Five

Lupe Fiasco—“Dumb It Down”

“Bishop G, they told me I should come down, cousin / But I flatly refuse:  I ain’t dumb down nothing!”

Murs—“Can It Be (Half a Million Dollars and 18 Months Later)

“Can it be that its time to do something / ITS NOT SOCIALISM, ITS NOT COMMUNISM / ITS LOVING EACH OTHER, REALIZE THERE’S NO DIFFERENCE / It’s positive movement, gradual improvement / When no one else does, believe you can do it”

Torae—“What’s Love”

“When I hit rock bottom like Goliath after David / Literally when these lame labels litigated / I liberated my life with love and levitated / And left every lyric I laid completely obliterated”

Pac Div—“Young Black Male”

“This is the story of a young black male / Tryin’ to dodge the cemetery and the over-packed jail.”

Dangerdoom—“Bada Bing”

“Stocky, short and cocky / Looked like Apollo Creed after he fought Rocky / Rhymed in a broken English slang, not cockney / Thirteen, his first queen wore hot knock knees.”

Daniel’s Starting Five

J Rocc Live in Japan

J Rocc is one of the best turntablists and DJ’s around. He’s a Stones Throw guy so all of this may not surprise you, but J Rocc, no matter who he’s associated with, is one of the best turntablism has to offer.

Masta Ace -“Good Ol’ Love”

“Ain’t nothing like hip-hop music, that’s why we choose it, and the world just can’t refuse it.”

Mos Def -“Mathematics”

Do I even need to go over this? Hip-hop’s finest.

FowL -“Ambassador Bridge”

#Detroit

The Notorious B.I.G. -“The What (feat. Method Man)”

“Don’t tempt me…” “T-H-O-D-MAN” Yeah, talk about lyrical masterminds. Furthermore, this is the only track where Biggie admits he was lyrically outplayed.

July 31st:

Gus’ Starting Five

Black Star—“Twice Inna A Lifetime”

“Excuse me, just ate another MC / Sometimes that’s just how it be.”

Apollo Brown & Guilty Simpson—“Nasty”

“Big dawg, I’m a Rottweiler/ I’m getting bread I’m a stockpiler.”

Cypress Hill—“3 Lil’ Putos”

“Cuando entro, loaded is the cuete / Speakin’ to the gente / Cause I’m insane in the mente.”

Gorillaz—“Kids With Guns”

“Kids with guns / Kids with guns.”

Ice Cube—“Down For Whatever”

“Damn I’m such a G its pathetic / Here’s comes the big-headed, nigga that’s dippin / Sippin on Courvoisier / Goddamn, I must have to floss today / Now pimpin’ aint easy but its necessary so I’m chasin bitches like Tom chase Jerry.”

Daniel’s Starting Five

For the past five days I’ve been involved in a prop bet with a couple of friends. The challenge was to listen to David Bowie and only David Bowie. I recorded 13 hours and 37 minutes until I finally cracked. Since then I haven’t had any hip-hop in the brain. I’m sorry.

July 24th:

Gus’ Starting Five

This 5 goes out to Todd Flynn and Eric Regalbuto. They’ve been here since day one and it’s much appreciated.

Adrian Champion—“Stars & Stripes”

If it don’t make dollars, then it don’t make sense / You don’t really want it fancy in any event / Cause let’s be real, this country was built on cheap labor and greed for paper.

Oddisee—“Do It All”

The way my career is goin, I might get to spendin on it / Dependin on if my minutes longer than 15 / I might say a verse and then end the song on a big screen / Picture that from a small town with with big dreams / From flyin coach to buyin coach, I’m in between / I’m not a star, somebody lied / I ride the subway as a car, I’m gettin by.

Blackalicious—“Lotus Flower”

You may not get it now / But in the future, you will mature / And join craft and outer sessions if the music lets ya / It’s just the essence of pure common sense / It’s not a lecture.

Chali 2na—“MC Material”

I come with that true, MC material / Concepts, metaphors and subliminals / 100 percent MC is how I’m living yo.

Gensu & Planet Asia—“Faces On The Dollar”

You fooly ass rappers is making it too easy for me / I’m on my fly thug shit, that’s easy money / With enough brethren, that’s rough around the edges / Hit the ruffle up some feathers / and it’s nothing, it’s whatever.

Daniel’s Starting Five

Danny! -“Scrambled Eggs”

One of the few fuckin’ songs on this album with a hook / A breakfast connoisseur, maybe I should write a book / I’ll give you hell if you ain’t sellin’ Belgian waffles / The fuck is turkey bacon? Man I swear that smell is awful.

Lootpack -“Weededed”

LP ROCKS FRESH.

DJ Dangermouse -“Encore (Grey Album Mash-Up)”

“A lot of people just assume I took some Beatles and, you know, threw some Jay-Z on top of it or mixed it up or looped it around, but it’s really a deconstruction. It’s not an easy thing to do. I was obsessed with the whole project, that’s all I was trying to do, see if I could do this. Once I got into it, I didn’t think about anything but finishing it. I stuck to those two because I thought it would be more challenging and more fun and more of a statement to what you could do with sample alone. It is an art form. It is music. You can do different things, it doesn’t have to be just what some people call stealing. It can be a lot more than that.”

Gorilla Warfare Tactics -“Temptations”

Ah man coming through like a renegade / Flow like graffiti on the overpass never fade.

A$AP Rocky -“1 Train (feat. Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, YelaWolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson and Big K.R.I.T.)”

Umm, yeah. Fuck yeah.

July 17th:

Gus’ Starting Five

Nas—“N.Y. State Of Mind”

I never sleep cause sleep is the cousin of death

Raheem DeVaughn—“Bulletproof”

A poignant, thought provoking commentary on gun culture and violence in a laid-back, yet serious style. Oh, and Luda is in the house with one of his best verses.

The Roots—“Now Or Never”

One of the tracks that really demonstrates the maturation process of the Legendary Roots Crew from a band that toured the world with little rehearsal to a household name in hip-hop whose live performances are as tight as they come.

Truck North—“Still Truck”

Committing to someone is challenging and Truck describes this perfectly.

OutKast—“Git Up, Git Out”

You need to git up, git out and git something / Don’t let the days of your life pass by / You need to git up, git out and git something / Don’t spend all your time tryin’ to get high / You need to git up, git out and git something / How will you make it if you never even try? / You need to git up, git out and git something / Cause you and I gotta do for you and I.

Daniel’s Starting Five

One Be Lo- “Axis”

An oldie but a goodie. Speaking of One Be Lo…COP THE NEW BINARY STAR EP!

Planet Asia- “Right or Wrong”

Why do I even need to explain this pick?

The Roots- “Sleep”

I’ve lost a lot of sleep to dreams.

Ghostface Killah- “Daytona 500 (feat. Raekwon and Cappadonna)”

So listen to them clear, and put the box right near your ear / Light your blunts and down your beers / Cause you could never fuck with Wu-Tang Killer Beez…

Gorillaz- “White Flag (feat. Kano & Bashy)

If Heaven had a V.I.P., this is it white sand blue sea.

July 10th:

Gus’ Starting Five

Money Making Jam Boys—“500 Horses”

I’m high voltage, cash from undisclosed sources / Choppin’ it up with other bosses on that closed door shit / It’s Black Star quality, rap star salary / Do it for my city, let me know if y’all proud of me.” –Black Thought

They said Dice, ‘you got twelve,’ I said, ‘Let me in’ / I party every night, twelve a.m. to twelve p.m. / And then I close my coffin like Dracula / My thoughts complex like the engines on an Acura.” –Dice Raw

Killer Mike—“Bad Day, Worst Day”

I’m loved by the kids in the college class / And the 9-5 niggas that be workin’ they ass.”

Open Mike Eagle—“Middling” (get at Gus for this track, do it)

You sit at home and watch Boogie Nights without the fist fight to the porno scenes / Yeah, you eat plain frozen yogurt and won’t know what to do when reality shows are over / I’d like to stick your head in an empty can of Folgers / Like I was the member card from your local grocer.

Ugly Heroes—“Ugly”

Passed the bare minimum trash, take em’ to task / Not from a pretty place and not a pretty boy / You don’t gotta love me / Fuck it, I’m livin’ ugly.

Yasiin Bey—“Know That”

Fuck the empire / High flyin’ like the Millenium Falcon, piloted by Han Solo / I never roll for dolo, frontin’ on me’s a no-no / Understand, I’m doing this for my family.

Daniel’s Starting Five

dead prez- “Hell Yeah (Pimp the System)”

This song means a lot to me.

Killer Mike & El-P- “A Christmas Fucking Miracle”

Oh. My. God. Album of the year…

Ab-Soul- “The Book of Soul”

“I did some things you did some things, always came back together.”

Jay-Z- “Holy Grail (feat. Justin Timberlake)”

I haven’t listened to the whole album yet, and it’s because I’ve been stuck on this song. At times I love this song, and at others I utterly despise it. As a result I’ve just been playing this over and over.

Souls of Mischief- “93 ’til Infinity”

“This is how we chill from 93 ’til.”

July 3rd:

Gus’ Starting Five

K’Naan—“Bang Bang”

“She shot me, she shot me, bang bang she shot me”

Janelle Monae—“Cold War”

The woman in the tux is here, ready to save the day with he unreal voice.

Kidz In The Hall—“Breaker One Nine”

“Locally accepted, internationally known/ Simply put, I defecate on the microphone.”

Full Crate—“L’Afrique

Africa on the speakers courtesy of OkayAfrica.

BADBADNOTGOOD—“Bastard/Lemonade”

Suuuuuch a jam!

Daniel’s Starting Five

Run the Jewels (El-P and Killer Mike)- “Banana Clipper (feat. Big Boi)”

This summer’s “hit you full force in the fucking face” hip-hop jam.

Dessa- “Warsaw”

This summer’s “okay you can take my money” hip-hop jam.

Havoc- “Favorite Rap Stars (feat. Styles P and Raekwon)

This summer’s “thank god you’re still producing music” hip-hop jam.

Joey Bada$$- “Word Is Bond”

This summer’s “90s reincarnation” hip-hop jam.

Kool Keith & Big Sche Eastwood- “Ewokie Galaxy Swag”

This summer’s “goddammit Kool Keith what is this but I can’t turn you off underground secret party banger” hip-hop jam.

June 26th:

Gus’ Starting Five

The Beast—“Keep Your Worries”

With Pierce Freelon as MC, The Beast combines aspects of hip-hop and jazz to deliver a complex fusion sound that works perfectly backed by live musicians. “Keep Your Worries” is the first track from their EP, Guru Legacy, as it pays homage to the hip-hop legend, Guru.

Boog Brown & Apollo Brown—“Friends Like These”

On this track from Brown Study, Boog Brown is flawless over Apollo’s beat as she talks about two-faced friends and how to persevere past those types.

Reflection Eternal—“In This World”

From 2010, Reflection Eternal is back as Hi-Tek provides the beats for Kweli as he describes the environment of his upbringing and the effort it took to get where he is. I’ve seen Talib Kweli three times and this is by far one of the best tracks that he does live. “Welcome to my longitude and latitude / My attitude is shaping my surroundings / Skyscrapers, public housing.

Common—“The Corner”

From Be, released in 2005, Common joins forces with the Last Poets and tells the story of the street corner. Found in every city, the corner is the place where streets meet and things happen. Common paints a vivid picture of street life in Chicago with his approach and style of rhyming.

Statik Selektah—“Bird’s Eye View”

Statik brings in rap royalty Raekwon, Joey Bada$$ and Black Thought for this track from his recently released album, Extended Play. Over the tantalizingly soulful beat, The Chef and Joey kill this one. However, on this particular track Black Thought shows why he is undeniably one of the best MCs ever. After hearing this, it is impossible not to admit it. He didn’t need to prove himself, but he did anyway.

Daniel’s Starting Five

One Self- “Bluebird”

Crisply churning; sexy.

eMC- “Winds of Change”

Potent and powerful.

Flatbush Zombies- “Face – Off”

Quick-hitting smash-mouth hip-hop storytelling.

Clear Soul Forces- “Knuckle Up”

Oozing through my computer.

L’Orange- “Her Sins”

Trussed.

June 19th:

Gus’ Starting Five

This Starting 5 is dedicated to the memory of Emmett Till, Vincent Chin, Trayvon Martin and all those that have been killed and/or incarcerated because of the ignorant perception and social construction of race.

Made You Die”—Dead Prez, mikeflo and Yasiin Bey

Take the time to revisit this collaboration from these rap geniuses as the highly racist defense plan of George Zimmerman’s lawyers was revealed this past week. Similar to Trayvon or just about every high school aged male in America I took part in the consumption of marijuana and under-age drinking. I also knew of “fight clubs” and people who used cocaine. I did not take part in these last two things, but was exposed to it in some form. As far as Zimmerman’s attorneys are concerned, this would be a justification for my execution as well.

Louder Than A Bomb”—Public Enemy

Released in 1988 It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back changed the make up of hip-hop forever. Given all of the recent news regarding the NSA surveillance program called “Prism”, Verizon and the Patriot Act, Chuck D’s lyrics are nothing but prophetic. “Although I live the life that of a resident / But I be knowin’ the scheme that of the President / Tappin’ my phone whose crews abused / I stand accused of doing harm / Cause I’m louder than a bomb.”

“Fuck Tha Police”—N.W.A.

Also released in 1988, Straight Outta Compton introduced Niggas With Attitude (N.W.A.) and the anger from generations of racism directed toward the African-American community in Los Angeles to the world. Dr. Dre’s beat, Eazy E and Ice Cube’s opening verse will live in hip-hop infamy forever. “Fuck the police comin’ straight from the underground, a young nigga got it bad cause I’m brown / And not the other color so police think, they have the authority to kill a minority.”

“In The Music”—The Roots

From their 2005 album, Game Theory, The Roots illustrate the hardship of street life that involves police brutality, drugs and gang violence for many Philadelphians. With a dark beat utilizing the kick drum, floor tom and snare Questlove sets the tone for Black Thought as he weaves a narrative in the way only he can. “Cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians / Clips and revolvers and George’s and Benjamin’s / A celebration of the loss of your innocence, to your old self you lost any resemblance / They say the city make a dark impression / The youth just lost and they want direction / But they don’t get the police, they get the protection / And walk around with heat like Charlton Heston.”

“Auditorium”—Yasiin Bey

From the 2009 album, The Ecstatic, Yasiin Bey and Slick Rick brilliantly juxtapose the lives of the oppressed in the United States to the lives of those living under American occupation in Iraq. Rhyming to a deliberately placed Madlib beat, both MCs demonstrate their wealth and knowledge of putting words together in creative and purposeful way.

Daniel’s Starting Five

Das Racist- “You Oughta Know”

“Sick of arguing with white dudes on the internet”

INI- “Grown Man Sport”

“The climbing gets hotter as the city gets smarter. A million one catch they trying to earn top dolla.”

Danger Mouse and Jemini- “Ghetto Pop Life”

“I’m just a brother who never compromises his integrity.”

Ab-Soul “Terrorist Threats (feat. Danny Brown and Jhene Aiko)”

“Babylon, Babylon. Out my window all I see is Babylon. On the news all I see is Babylon. And all niggas do is just babble on.”

The Game- “Martians vs. Goblins (feat. Tyler, The Creator)”

“That shit was expected like Jayceon whenever he name-drop.”

May 29th:

Gus’ Starting Five

This list is dedicated to someone who is very special to me and who I have been lucky enough to spend the last two weeks with and love a lot, Jen Spears. It has been an amazing time and you should come home soon!

Reflection Eternal—“Midnight Hour”

The Cool Kids—“Summer Jam”

Jurassic 5—“Thin Line”

Aloe Blacc—“I Need A Dollar”

Chiddy Bang—“Hey London”

Daniel’s Starting Five

Loaded Lux- “Rite (feat. Method Man and Redman)”

Loaded Lux is making strides in a lot of different areas. This Harlem MC is an up-and-comer that has delved in WorldStarHipHop‘s Battle Rap and has worked with Wyclef Jean. His newest joint “Rite” bounces and is a straight banger and features verses from Redman and Method Man. Meth’s verse overshadows the other two, and his opening lines lead to an incredible stanza: “Lux I’m loaded ’bout ready to spit a verse / On hater’s I unloaded be ready to get his hearse / I’m ’bout to send him notice if Harlem don’t get him first / Send him down to unemployment cause homie gone get this work / Hot Benz, every honey is a top ten / If she Hopsin, then mo’ than likely we not friends.” Oh Meth, I’m so glad nobody fucks with you.

Arrested Development- “Somewhere in North Georgia”

“I heard somewhere in North Georgia there is a place where the heart knows no pain and a tear knows no face. And the song is playing from every rooftop space, pack your bags let’s go there I hear they’re closing the gates…”

Dr. Octagon- “Blue Flowers”

In honor of Harry Jadun’s alter ego tournament I’m sharing with ya’ll my favorite Dr. Octagon song of all time, which coincidentally just happens to be his most popular song. Not only is “Blue Flowers” my favorite Kool Keith cut, but it’s also the first song of his I ever listened to. I downloaded this track during the Napster and KaZaa days, and when I grew a bit I purchased Dr. Octagonecologyst on CD and then later on vinyl. Yes, I love Dr. Octagon. “Blue Flowers” showcases everything that makes Dr. Octagonecologyst a certified classic. There’s the eerie Automator beat with creepy violin swells and a stalking beat, Keith’s obscure lyrics about microscopes, roaches and fetuses and Kid Koala’s scratching at the end that literally screams. At the time, this was something out of left field, on another planet…

Kanye West- “Heard Em Say”

What is Kanye West up to these days? Ha!

“Heard Em Say” is his best song. Please, bash me.

So, what is Kanye West up to these days?

Flying Lotus- “Between Friends (feat. Earl and Captain Murphy aka Flying Lotus)”

This track came out roughly a year ago, and at the time there were so many mysteries surrounding it. Who’s Captain Murphy? Is this Earl’s new style, and if so, when can we get more? Is there something FlyLo can’t do right? You’d be hard pressed to find someone who argues against Earl’s new flow and resurgence, FlyLo’s production and his alter ego Captain Murphy, and to me, this track was the start of it all (except for FlyLo’s content before this dropped, because Cosmogramma and Los Angeles are perfect).

May 22nd:

Gus’ Starting Five

Elzhi- “Motown 25”

If you want to hear some Detroit hip-hop, search no further. Heavy beats and rhymes. Fuck a hook.

Jay Electronica- “Dealing”

From his mixtape What The F*ck Is A Jay Electronica, New Orleans native Jay Electronica delivers sly lyricism mixed with on-point social commentary. “Dealing” is a perfect example of how hip-hop is a poetic art form and also a way to express one’s self. For example, Jay mentions the Patriot Act, transitions to the prison system and addresses problems associated with drug dealing in his community. Beyond that, Jay shows why he is one of the premiere rappers in hip-hop as he truly does “deal” on this track.

Haiku D’Etat- “Transitions And Eras”

With a little help from Blackalicious, Lyrics Born and Lateef, Los Angeles trio Haiku D’Etat brides jazz with hip-hop on this funky piano and ride-cymbal driven groove. The beat itself is quirky, and somewhat hard to move to but as the rappers add their two-cents, the song becomes an instant banger. “Transitions And Eras” is from the group’s 2004 album, Coup De Theatre and is very worth a listen.

The Fugees- “Some Seek Stardom”

From The Fugees debut album Blunted On Reality from 1994, “Some Seek Stardom” features Ms. Lauryn Hill in all her lyrical brilliance. This track prominently samples Aretha Franklin’s cover of “Bridge Of Troubled Water.” With “Some Seek Stardom” the group addresses the problem with sellouts. I see this to the predecessor to songs such as Black Star’s “Children’s Story” and Blackalicious’ “Deception.” As they explain in the hook, “Some seek stardom, then they forget Harlem / Keep their pockets full, but their souls run empty.”

K’naan- “Soobax”

From his 2005 release, The Dusty Foot Philosopher, K’naan uses an African inspired beat on “Soobax.” Originally from Somalia, K’naan condemns the violence in his country of origin due to the Somalian Civil War that began in the early 90’s. Because of the war he and his family left for North America. “I work for the struggle / I don’t work for dough / I mean what I say, I don’t do it for show / Somalia needs all gunmen right out the door.”

Daniel’s Starting Five

Ali Vegas- “The Specialist”

Ali Vegas is to the late 90s/early 00s as Joey Bada$$ is to late 00s/early 2010s. Both are from New York and both share a similar delivery and vocal reflection. The only difference is that Ali Vegas has a legacy and Joey Bada$$ needs time. Without being disrespectful, Ali Vegas is on a different level both lyrically and mentally, and on “The Specialist” you can hear him shine.

Army of the Pharaohs- “Godzilla”

The 649 Stoddard Crew knows this cut all too well, but with that aside, “Godzilla” showcases the depth and versatility of Army of the Pharaohs, a hip-hop supergroup from Philadelphia with ties to Jedi Mind Tricks, OuterSpace and Snowgoons. From Celph Titled’s brilliant opening verse to Vinnie Paz’ closing, “Godzilla” shows just how strong this group is over a hard-hitting beat.

Organized Konfusion- “Why”

“Why” is more a Buckwild showcase behind the production than it is Pharoahe Monch and Prince Poetry lyrical showcase. And I don’t mean any offense, but Buckwild from 95 to 05 is magic on whatever song he produces.

Nas- “Affirmative Action (feat. The Firm)”

I’m pretty sure I’ve shared this before, but this song will never get old. As one of the forerunners in the Mafioso rap scene, “Affirmative Action” is a detailed account of drug slinging being compared to the life of a mobster. The treat though is Foxy Brown’s verse, and if you can concentrate on her bars you’ll soon notice she’s really good at math…

Kriss Kross- “Rugrats Rap”

I’m still kind of shocked that Chris Kelly is no longer with us, because to be honest, he’s probably the first MC I ever listened to. Because of my obsession with Rugrats as a child, I was introduced to this song at a very young age, and the only thing that went through my mind was that the beat was positive. But in essence, that’s what all of Kriss Kross was, positive vibes and celebration. From “Jump” to “Warm It Up,” Kriss Kross was young MCs and hip-hop at its best.

May 15th:

Gus’ Starting Five

Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley— “Welcome To Jamrock”

From Damian Marley’s 2005 album of the same name, Bob Marley’s son exemplifies the progression of reggae and hip-hop. On this particular track, Damian presents an image of Jamaica that is much different than what is typically seen as the fun and tropical place to spend a spring break. In “Welcome To Jamrock,” Damian speaks on the vast poverty and corruption that plagues the island of Jamaica.

Immortal Technique— “Obnoxious”

From 2003’s Revolutionary Vol. 2, the highly political MC from the Bronx goes in and slays this track from start to finish. Within the first four lines you will be hooked at what he is willing to say to get his point across. “I’m obnoxious motherfucker, can’t you tell? / Run through Little Havana yelling, “Viva Fidel!”/ Jerking off with the sheets when I stay at hotels / Drinking Bacardi at AA meetings, smoking a L.”

Stik Figa— “Medicine”

On this track, the Kansas MC challenges us to change the way we live and think about history. After listening to “Medicine” the message is revolves around the fact that what people consider “cool” or “important” is nothing while there is so much pain, crime and greed within our communities but also in the government. “What’s going on, what’s happenin? / Nobody compassionate, the lack of it, got the working class ready to blast again.”

The Roots—“Why (What’s Going On?)”

On this soulful joint from The Roots 2004 release, The Tipping Point, the group shows sacrifices working class people make everyday just to survive. This song was released at a time when the United States presence in the Middle East was at the forefront of the news as we had invaded Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Furthermore, this song illustrates the obsession with materialism and capitalism’s toll on these areas. This was a dark time in the United States, and on this song, the plight and resiliency of working class communities throughout the country is very apparent. “Keepin’ your head above water, hustlin’ to survive / Some people chasin’ a dream, other just chasin’ a high / Some people blind leading the blind, they chasin’ a lie / Some people chokin’ backs broken barely makin’ it by / But still they working all they life, they pushing for the light.

Dead Prez—“We Want Freedom”

From the 1999 classic Let’s Get Free, the revolutionary duo of M-1 and Stic.man challenge us to really think about the social inequities and oppression that people are forced to deal with everyday. With “We Want Freedom” they dare us to be revolutionary and to work for true freedom day in and day out. “Tell me what you gon do to get free, we need more than MCs / We need Hueys and Revolutionaries.”

Daniel’s Starting Five

This is for you Victor Kim. Thank you for helping me and everyone else discover our inner identities. You will be greatly missed. We’ll be seeing you soon. 5.9.13

Epik High- “Fly”

Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth- “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”

Epik High- “I Remember (feat. Kensie)”

Kanye West- “All of the Lights (Interlude)”

Nujabes- “Aruarian Dance”

May 8th:

Gus’ Starting Five

Skillz—“Hold Tight”

From his 2008 ablum, Million Dollar Backpack, Skillz teams up with Black Thought on this laid-back, jazzy track. “Hold Tight” provides insight into the daily struggles of working class communities that continually face obstacles such as low-income jobs, police brutality, and prejudice. Both MC’s are at the top of their game as they demonstrate their abilities as storytellers. Skillz starts out explaining, “Deal with the real, when it’s got you seein’ red/ And feelin’ like you felt when you was lookin over the edge/ Soon as you get the light, they pull back the curtain/ You workin’ for the system, but the system ain’t workin’.

Black Milk—“Try”

Also from 2008, “Try” is the eleventh song on Black Milk’s Tronic. On this song, Black Milk harnesses all that is great about Detroit Hip-hop with heavy drums, hi hats, and R&B samples. In the second verse, Black Milk criticizes the music industry and the current state of hip-hop. “On top of the world, tell me how it feels/ On top of a mil, hundred dollar bills/ I’ve been trying to get on top past couple years/ Hip-hop’s done flopped for the past couple years.

Audible Doctor—“Hard Work”

Hailing from Madison, Wisconsin, the Audible Doctor goes ham on this track from his EP The Spread. Featuring MC’s Ruffian, Shaw Bihl, and Cas Metah this song hits hard and showcases Audible Doctor’s talents as a producer. If you download The Spread, the instrumental of this bad boy is worth putting on rotation as well.

Hasaan Mackey & Apollo Brown—“Weak Won’t Do”

From the 2011 release Daily Bread, New York MC Hasaan Mackey and Detroit producer Apollo Brown connect the their respective cities and their storied hip-hop traditions for this gritty, hard-nosed album. The essence of Daily Bread is on full display on “Weak Won’t Do” where Apollo Brown layers heavy drums and soulful samples under Hasaan’s deep, smooth voice as he drops rhyme after rhyme.

Dice Raw—“1995”

Typically when you hear Dice Raw he is slaying tracks alongside The Roots and/or The Money Making Jam Boys. From his EP, The Greatest Rapper Never, Dice reflects on his career and on an important year in hip-hop. The year 1995 saw the release of albums from Goodie Mob, Raekown, The Roots, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Big L, Mobb Deep, GZA, and The Pharcyde. Not only is Dice Raw reflecting on a major year for hip-hop albums, he is also establishing himself as a veteran MC who has been around the block. “I used to hop the train, listening to Wu-Tang/ Lightin’ L’s in the stairwell, with the butane/ I’m so different now, I guess things do change/ My old friends see me, they be like you strange/ Even my mother has a problem with how I do things.

Daniel’s Starting Five

Nujabes- “Imaginary Folklore (feat. Clammbon)”

Jun Seba, better known as Nujabes, was a Japanese hip-hop producer known for blending soundscapes that consisted of mellow atmospheric sound and jazz fusion. His sound stretches farther than this, but it was this specific approach to hip-hop that turned people on to him in the beginning. On February, 26, 2010, Seba was killed in a car accident on a Tokyo expressway. To me, every song of his is a grand reflection of him as an artist, a contributor to hip-hop and as a human being. He had the respect of the common fan to artists like CL Smooth and Five Deez, and his contributions to hip-hop will forever remain until the strands of time cease to exist.

De La Soul- “Ooh (feat. Redman)”

I first heard this song back in middle school. It was my introduction to both De La Soul and Redman, and when a song has that kind of influence on you, there’s no throwing it away.

Jay Electronica- “Dimethyltryptamine”

I can’t fully explain this song without going into a thesis, so this is what you should do: 1) listen to this song, 2) go to rapgenius.com and read the lyrics as Jay spits, 3) read the meanings behind each bar, 4) repeat.

Das EFX- “Baknaffek”

Skoob and Dray of Das EFX pioneered hip-hop music in ways that are just now being recognized now. They were masters of referencing pop culture and they possessed unbelievable talent in creating stream of consciousness delivery. Because of their affiliation with EPMD, they gained notoriety, but to this day they are still underrated as an influential force. “Baknaffek” is a prime example of the duo’s ability to blend their styles, and Dray’s first verse is a perfect example of their free-flowing minds.

J Dilla- “Dilla Bot vs. The Hybrid (feat. Danny Brown)”

Featured on the posthumous release Jay Stay Paid, “Dilla Bot vs. The Hybrid” features an unreleased Dilla produced track and an accommodating verse by Danny Brown. Here Brown gives respect to Dilla in a way other than wearing the infamous J Dilla Changed My Life shirt (“Just saved my life / Just like Dilla did / More than a t-shirt“). He also gives respect to his hometown of Detroit (“Detroit in this bitch“), MC Serch (“Coming home third base like Serch“), as well as filling the song with lines only Danny Brown can conjure up (“Touch mics like Macaulay Culkin“).

May 1st:

Gus’ Starting Five

Add-2— “Underdog”

Chicago native Add-2 demonstrates his skill with this in your face joint from his recent release More Missed Calls. Complete with blaring horn samples and a dynamic beat, Add-2 establishes himself as more than some unknown MC. On the second verse, listen for the syncopated, triplet-based rhythms of his rhymes that resemble those of Big L.

ANTHM— “Freefall”

I love ANTHM’s flow because of its smoothness. In his music, he is able to discuss complicated subject matter in a relaxed way. He touches on religion, the music industry, racism, privilege and poverty in such a way that it sounds likes he is just hanging out, telling you what he thinks. He does it in such a way that you will find yourself listening to his lines over and over, finding the multiple layers of meaning within his words. His style is very personable, and really makes you think about life. This is especially true on his mixtape, Handful of Dust and specifically on the song “Freefall.” With a smooth jazz guitar sample and melodic hook the New York MC reflect on his life, the trials, the tribulations and the accomplishments. In the second verse he explains, “Used to get riled up / Gotta switch my style up / And gallop until the sun set / It’s pleasing to my palette / What am I living for? / If knowledge is wealth, then damn, I’ve been living poor.”

Angel Haze— “Werkin’ Girls”

On this banger Angel Haze demonstrates her abilities as a true MC. She is in your face, and she can hang with anyone. On “Werkin’ Girls” from her mixtape, Reservation she delivers ingenious rhyme on ingenious rhyme. If I had a dime for every time I thought, “Oh damn, she said what??” I would be able to afford a new computer. This is one of those tracks where it feels that the art of word play within hip-hop is alive and well. For instance, “But I’ll be running that shit like a motherfuckin’ tracker / Like I run on sense like a motherfuckin’ chopper / Like a cheetah in the jungle but I’m motherfuckin’ faster / Like a pre-teen boy in the church with a pastor.” And, “I am multi-faceted, bitch I do a ton of shit / Like I’m diarrhea or whatever sitting under it / I’m nasty, I’m insane, I’m too much, I spit grains.”

Common— “Drivin’ Me Wild”

From his 2007 album Finding Forever, Common delivers a brilliant track about the obsession of becoming famous and the materialism that surrounds this aspiration. In the first verse he tells the story of a young woman and in the second, a young man. In the third verse, they are a couple and struggling to stay together. In “Drivin’ Me Wild” Common delivers creative verses while touching on the difficulty of materialism and trying to be something you’re not. “To live the rap life is what he was strivin’ for / Spendin’ cash at the bar to get credit / Drinkin’ Chaundon just because Big said it.”

Sophia Danai— “The End”

This may not technically fall into the genre of hip-hop but hey, Talib Kweli is featured, and that’s good enough for me. Sophia’s beautifully eerie voice is on display on “The End.” Kweli continues to impress with his versatility as an MC. A great rainy day song to play over, and over again.

Daniel’s Starting Five

R.A. The Rugged Man- “Learn Truth (feat. Talib Kweli)”

“Learn Truth” packs quite the punch in the stomach, but it’s needed, because these two legends have quite the message. From the very get-go, Talib Kweli criticizes us all, stating that one of the biggest problems is that we don’t truly listen to what MC’s have to say, we simply listen to them because it makes us feel better (“My flow is so fucking honest you said you wanted to hear it / You’re lying cause all you wanted was for me to life up your spirits”). From here, the song takes a turn and focuses on the worldview and the problems that have always existed within it. From blood being spilt over religion, to genocide, to governmental abuse and war, Talib and R.A. truly rap with a message. Over swooping piano production, R.A. starts off–quite possibly with the verse of the year–by stating: “Death by suicide bomb, Protestants, Bibles, a Koran, or Islam / From Genghis Khan to Vietnam I can smell the Napalm / Rape victims, ripped stockings / Redneck clan members doing church bombings.”

Action Bronson- “Imported Goods”

This song is quite possibly the new-age city reflection anthem among underground hip-hop junkies, and it’s presented in a unique way. Encased with metaphors and similes that involve NASDAQ, 95 Orlando Magic jerseys and horse racing, Action Bronson takes four minutes and raps about what he knows: the city, the blue collar community and his surroundings. “This is for my people making sales until they back hurt / See the beast on the creep they let the Mac squirt / Bitch on the backs that do the dippies on the bikes and / Loud pipes and rocking leathers like a wild Viking / My man who just came home and some are going up / Fiends up in the alley sippin Balley fucking throwing up / Keep your mind straight, focus on the prize / Always diving into thighs, blowing smoke into the skies.”

Nitty Scott- “Bath Salt”

Out of all the female MCs making strides, Nitty Scott is definitely one of the more interesting. She’s actually not even a rapper, but rather a freestyle MC, and it’s this trait alone that makes Nitty intriguing. Her debut EP The Boombox Diaries Vol. 1 features the likes of Kendrick Lamar and The Kid Daytona, but the real gems are the songs where Nitty’s sweet voice mixes with her aggressive lyrics. “Bath Salt” is quite impressive from a “straight-off-the-top” standpoint, and it’s filled with lines like “Started from the bottom so it’s everything to gain bang / G’s up hoe’s down nigga bang bang / I don’t give a fuck what your clang or your chain hang / Slang bang and the whole damn gang saying / Make your favorite rapper have a name change dang,” and “But if I dedicate this / Probably make a funny nigga famous.”

Cannibal Ox- “Iron Galaxy”

The basis of Cannibal Ox’s masterpiece record The Cold Vein is that it blends gritty street stories with futuristic portrayals of life. On “Iron Galaxy” producer El-P throws synths and pads into a murky space beat that expands sonically, while Vordul Mega and Vast Aire talk about corruption and devastation within the confines of New York City. In Vordul Mega’s second verse, he struggles with the complexity of what’s worse: trigger happy cops or selling drugs to junkies (“NY 5-0 might shoot black head / Nigga sorry I sold space suit to crack head”). Elsewhere he talks about escape (“Imma live life after this one crime / One line from the Megalah blow spines / Everyone knows the city’s ill, cats kill”). On Vast Aire’s verse, he discusses the lower class’ cyclical struggle and basic economy among these residents (“And if there’s crack in the basement / Crackheads stand adjacent / Anger displacement / From food stamp arrangements”). It’s a gritty story set in an odd backdrop, but Cannibal Ox spits a flawless story.

Red Pill- “Please Tip Your Driver”

BLAT! Pack member Red Pill released this gem more than two years ago, but as the first verse goes “the past still follows.” On “Please Tip Your Driver,” Red Pill channels all of those working jobs that still hold dreams of a better life, all while scripting verses that place blame on governmental programs. “I believe there’s more,” Red Pill spits, “and I believe that the rich should not get rich while the poor gets poor.” Perhaps everything can be tracked down to the start of his first verse, where he puts it perfectly (“See I got one cigarette left not one damn ounce of patience / Stressed cause I need to find a new occupation / Making food isn’t cutting it / Fuck it, just making revenue for the government”).

April 24th:

Gus’ Starting Five

This week, my starting five is dedicated to the start of the NBA Playoffs and
contains basketball references within each song.

The Roots— “Here I come”

Many of you probably recognize this song as the Late Night With Jimmy Fallon
theme. If you’re ever looking for a song to get you amped, I would highly
recommend this bad boy. “My ETA, I’ll arrive by morning / Money long like arms on
Alonzo Mourning.”

Pete Rock— “Don’t Be Mad”

This one goes out to my brother from the same mother, JP. It’s time to ball out.
NY’s Finest, Pete Rock’s 2008 release, shows his talents as a producer and MC. In
the hook we hear, “Don’t be mad cuz you can’t do what I can / Michael Jordan went
up, took that shot, and switch hands/ Don’t be mad cuz you not me / I’m the fuckin
poster boy for the MPC my nigga.”

Notorious B.I.G.— “Gimmie The Loot”

However you feel about Notorious B.I.G., it is undeniable that his legacy and cultural
impact is still felt today. I can’t help but wonder how hip-hop would be different
if he were still alive making records. On this particular track, Biggie describes
his hustle and at one point, likens it to Shaquile O’Neal. “I’m slammin niggas like
Shaquille, shit is real / When it’s time to eat a meal, I rob and steal.”

Wale—“The Best In the League” and “The Posse Cut”

I know this is technically “two” songs but trust me on this one. Take the time and
download Wale’s 2010 More About Nothing mixtape and listen to these two songs.
“The Best In The League” sets up the “The Posse Cut” in the best possible way. I
don’t want to give it away, but believe me, it’s worth it.

Daniel’s Starting Five

Cormega- “Beautiful Mind”

For a rapper that was kicked out of The Firm, Cormega sure represents as an impressive solo act. “Beautiful Mind” is a conquest over the mind and over struggle, and on a beat that twirls over interchanging piano chords, Cormega is dope in the “purest form” as he laments and spits a straight verse with sincerity. “Dominating this beat with my rhyming as if you need a reminder/ I spit that drug dealer shit you might have seen on The Wire.”

Dumbfoundead- “New Chick”

Jonathan Park is Dumbfoundead, and he is a Korean-American MC from Los Angeles, California. Growing up as a Korean-American in a predominantly non-Korean hip-hop scene, Park struggled early with gaining respect, but like any good up-and-coming story, people were proven wrong on initial thoughts and bias as he started to garner respect. He has done freestyling competitions such as Grind Time and Jumpoff’s World Rap Championships, was featured on NPR and has even opened for the popular Korean hip-hop group Epik High. Now he is starting to make waves on his name alone. On “New Chick” he mixes serious and humorous lines together to create a buzzing track. Lines like “Why the hell you always broke boo / But always got a pair of dope shoes / Oh you need to borrow money right? / Girl you’re turning into old news” and “Why we never have sex yo? / Can I get some head though? / You know a man has needs / Bullshit about strep throat” are moderately toned and simplistic, yet cutting and catchy.

Quasimoto- “Low Class Conspiracy”

From The Lootpack to Jaylib and Madvillain, Madlib has been a part of some of the most important hip-hop works in the last twenty years. As Quasimoto, Lib raps over self-produced beats with a higher pitched vocal track. In a rather humorous way, he touches on police and their power trips while keeping his audience giddy.

Death Grips- “System Blower”

I’ve been listening to The Money Store a lot lately, and as I try to pinpoint where exactly Death Grips fits in terms of genres, it’s safe to say that their experimental content and sound is a cross-breed of many things, including hip-hop. A recurring theme on The Money Store is that of living in a dog eat dog world, and the lines “kill it or die” and “how I’m coming why I’m slinging” pushes this theme to the extreme. The main hook (“system blower system over”) alludes to taking down the government, and as it all comes together, “System Blower” plays like the wildest anti-political hip-hop track of all time.

Dead Prez- “Police State”

This need not an explanation.

April 17th:

Gus’ Starting Five

Wu-Tang Clan—“Clan In Da Front”

This one goes out to my boy G-mess. You know who you are, and what this song is about. Also, GZA goes IN on this song. “I’m on the mound G, and it’s a no-hitter/And my DJ the catcher, he’s my man/In a way he’s the one who devised the plan/He throws the signs I hook up the beats with clout/I throw the rhymes to the mic and I strike em’ out.”

Rah Diggah—“Straight Spittin 4.5 (Dirty)”

Female MC Rah Diggah delivers a powerfully-packed dose of rhymes that demonstrate the full range of her creativity and skill as an MC.

Stik Figa—“Corner Store”

Hailing from Topeka, Kansas, Stik Figa is a relatively unknown MC that has creative and socially conscious rhymes. From the album As Himself, the soulful “Corner Store” tells the story of his neighborhood in Topeka. “Gotta keep it movin’, here poverty ain’t excusin/Black folk, white trash, Latinos needin’ solutions.”

L’Orange—“Lost Souls”

Producer L’Orange pays tribute to Billie Holiday with his album, Old Soul. The entire album is made up of Billie Holiday samples. On “Lost Souls” he features MCs and singer Hassan Mackey, yU, and Kelsey Lu to deliver a mysterious piece of hip-hop.

Mick Boogie & Adele—“Melt My Heart To Stone (Kick Drums Remix)”

From his mixtape 1988, Mick Boogie remixes songs from Adele’s debut album, 19. He layers this harrowing anthem with a verse from Big Pooh and the beat from Notorious B.I.G’s “Dead Wrong.” It’s spring; therefore time to bust out this little ditty.

Daniel’s Starting Five

Deltron 3030- “Madness”

Masked behind a conceptual tale about futuristic space pioneers in the year 3030, Deltron 3030 in actuality is a thematic masterpiece with underlying meanings that often go unnoticed on first listen. On “Madness” we see Del tha Funkee Homosapien tap on these themes over production by Dan the Automator and scratching by Kid Koala. Of the many themes that encompass “Madness,” some of Del’s most important involve: the government’s ability to fund NASA but neglect social care for civilians (“Put niggas on the moon and can’t pay your burdens”), the fact that the government considers people, especially students, as a stat rather than an individual (“We may act different in some ways/But we still grouped together like a fucking survey”) and his plea for “higher-ups” to recognize hip-hop as a religious movement that’s culturally significant (“The universe is one and I can see what rap can be/Glorious, put in the Smithsonian my podiums for holy hymns”). “Madness” is simply one track from an album that has not only touched underground hip-hop, but hip-hop and cultural perception as a whole, and this is primarily the reason why Deltron 3030 is timeless.

Ghostface Kllah- “Assassination Day”

Appearing on Ghostface Killah’s masterpiece Ironman, “Assassination Day” features four verses from fellow Wu-Tang members Inspectah Deck, RZA, Raekwon and Masta Killa. With each verse, the Wu subtly compares itself to messiahs of the streets on the world stage (“I move through the third world my third eyes the guiding light/Invite the fight, we all die tonight/The life I live’s a twenty-five to life bid/Parole reneged I stroll the globe fugitive”). Throwing punch lines over a dark guitar-driven beat, “Assassination Day” admits that protectors of the world’s problems comes through the words of the Wu.

OutKast- “Gasoline Dreams”

“Gasoline Dreams” is most definitely the underrated track on the OutKast classic Stankonia. Trudging on a guitar-funk beat, Andre 3000 provides a loud and charismatic chorus on big-business while Big Boi and featured MC Khujo Goodie back him up with story like verses.

Charles Hamilton- “Freestyle on DJ Green Lantern”

I don’t want to go into details, but Charles Hamilton was once considered one of the biggest “up-and-comers” in hip-hop. He was artistic, creative and young. Perhaps the best example of his potential lies in this video where he freestyles on the DJ Green Lantern show. As Green Lantern switches the beat and tempo every couple of minutes, Hamilton flawlessly displays the realness of a spot-on freestyle. Without bringing in obnoxious or inconceivable metaphors, the kid raps on what he’s surrounded by. “I’m on the spot headphones on the top of my head/And this verse is off the top of the head/If you hatin stop it you’re dead it’s the afterlife/I ain’t even got to go after mics/Do I look like Phil Jackson to you/And if you got offended then I’m rapping to you/Action to you actors, cut movie over/Groupies come over/I tell them just chill cause none of these groupies are sober.”

Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth- “Anger in the Nation”

As C.L. flexes his lyrical chords on black oppression throughout history of the world and his reaction to it, Pete Rock spins a soft yet effective beat that twinkles and crunches at the same time. “And here is one recollection of imperfection/No one should be judged by complexion.”

April 10th:

Gus’ Starting Five

The Fugees- “How Many Mics”

Wyclef and Pras go in on this song from their 1996 album, The Score. They both
lay down impressive verses that validate The Fugees place in hip-hop history.
However, I love this track because of Lauryn Hill. In my opinion, she delivers one of
the best verses of all time. I’ve probably listened to this song close to 100 times and
it still gets me every single time. Whenever you think of Ms. Hill, never forget that
she is “Sweet like licorice/Dangerous like syphilis.”

Reflection Eternal- “Soul Rebels”

It seems that Talib Kweli’s best work is in collaboration with other artists. His solo
work is high quality, but when he teams up with DJ Hi-Tek and Yasiin Bey, he is
next level. From the 2000 album Train of Thought, Kweli and Hi-Tek team up with
De La Soul for this groovy cut where they expound on the meaning of hip-hop. At
the start of the song Kweli can be heard explaining, “We don’t live for hip-hop/It
lives for us.”

Oddisee- “American Greed”

Producer/MC Oddisee demonstrates his skill at producing, writing and delivering
complex music on the song “American Greed” from his 2012 album, People Hear
What They See. On this album, he went to places all over the Washington D.C. area,
observed what was happening around him and wrote lyrics to go with what he
experienced. This song was conceived from listening to the conversations of
politicians. “American Greed” provides commentary on the economic structure of
our society and the obsession with making money and spending it. As the hook
describes, “This is everything you want, it’s everything you need/This is good old-
fashioned American Greed/See we get it how we get it, and we spend it how we
spend it/Cause it’s good old-fashioned American Greed.”

Yasiin Bey- “Sex, Love & Money”

Formerly known as Mos Def, Yasiin Bey addresses the obsession with sex, love and
money found in many rappers’ lyrics. This song, the single from his 2004 album
The New Danger, features the sampling of flutes, horns, tambourines and drums in
what is a crucial step in understanding the albums that came after The New Danger.

The Bullitts- “They Die By Dawn”

Jeymes Samuel, aka The Bullitts, comes at you with the track from his upcoming
album and film of the same title. Featuring Yasiin Bey, Jay Electronica and Lucy Liu
“They Die By Dawn” sounds like there is about to be a shoot-out at high noon. Then, seemingly out of nowhere Yasiin and Jay are there to drop bar after bar and give you the nod factor. Samuel’s short film They Die By Dawn tells the historically grounded story of African-Americans in the “Wild West Era” of the 1800’s.

Daniel’s Starting Five

DJ Q-Bert- “Turntable TV (Re-Vizion)”

One of the greatest turntablists to grace our fine planet is DJ Q-Bert, who is a true master behind the deck. Not only does he flawlessly spin music that weaves and cuts, but he also represents hip-hop on the world stage, being the forerunner in Filipino hip-hop. It’s here where Q-Bert stands for so much, as he is a dominant face in turntablism–an art that’s often overlooked in hip-hop discussion–and a dominant face in an ever-growing world hip-hop movement.

Binary Star- “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Part 1)”/”I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Part 2)”

With some music you just can’t simply listen to the content; you need to analyze it. On “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Binary Star, a group from Pontiac, Michigan explores the penitentiary system and its effect on inmates and its coherent flaw. Part 1 features Senim Silla and it starts out swiftly over a lullaby beat that’s both effective and soothing. “I was confined at 17, young and naive/Cast into a world with killers, robbers and thieves/Cramped in an eight man cell with ten cats/Eight on the bunks and three on just mats.” Later on, Silla focuses on his own mind and the governmental system: “Going back and forth the circuit/My life hanging on a verdict/And laws I’m unable to interpret.” On Part 2 OneBeLo discusses the flaws: “All types of individuals/Sorta like a melting pot for criminals/The system is designed to stock the plentiful.” Elsewhere, OneBeLo puts it simply: “And after twenty-seven months of my life I’ll tell you one thing/I know why the caged bird sings.”

Aesop Rock- “No Regrets”

One of Aesop Rock’s unique abilities as an MC is how he crafts messages into crammed verses and off-setting rhymes. With “No Regrets” we see Aesop Rock create a parable that features Lucy, a woman who stays prime on her path from childhood to death. By making the listener focus on Lucy’s story and her resistance to society, Aesop Rock subtly tells us that true happiness and self-assurance comes from creating your own course and sticking to it, rather than conforming to society and its many norms.

Grand Puba- “I Like It (I Wanna Be Where You Are)”

In essence, “I Like It” is Grand Puba’s New York City anthem and ode to home. Paying tribute has and always will be a vehicular theme in hip-hop, but cuts like this give us examples of the tunes that no matter what time frame will always have a lasting sound.

Big L- “The Enemy (feat. Fat Joe)”

On many of Big L’s tracks you’ll hear endless punchlines, lyrical smacks and lines full of double entendre street smarts. Compared to every other MC ever to live, Big L might be the greatest linesman, and his songs like “Da Graveyard” and “Put It On” showcase this unique and rare trait. However, on “The Enemy” L throws away disses and one-liners for the ultimate message a street rapper can claim: freedom from the very streets they had to survive. It’s on “The Enemy” where we see L focus on life after drug slinging, success stemming from his music and the continual prosecution from law enforcement. “You just mad cause I’m a young cat, pockets dumb fat/Talkin’ bout where the gun at/I been there and done that/I’m through with that illegal life I’m staying legit/I love to see cars come cruising by playing my shit.” From a thematic standpoint, “The Enemy” might be one of L’s best songs. It’s straightforward and simplistic compared to his other cuts, but it’s uplifting as he talks about his success. Not long after the release of “The Enemy,” Big L was tragically gunned down and shot nine times in Harlem, which makes this song even more emotional. He finally found his way out of the game, and yet the game still took his life.

April 3rd:

Gus’ Starting Five

The Beast—“Freedom”

The Beast is a band started by North Carolina MC Pierce Freelon that fuses jazz and
hip-hop. Off the album Freedom Suite, the Beast teams up with Nnenna Freelon and
the Apple Juice Kid to produce a smooth and bumping joint that also challenges the myth
of the American Dream. As Freelon explains, “The land of the free is contradictory
like the land and the sea/We ain’t free, we’ve been sleepin’ the American Dream.”

Common—“A Song For Assata (feat. Cee Lo)”

Off of Like Water for Chocolate, Common and Cee Lo lay down a track paying
homage to the falsely accused member of the Black Panther Party, Assasta Shakur.
In “A Song For Assata” we hear Common telling the story of the incredibly strong
woman that endured the merciless mental and physical abuse, and persecution
she suffered in the hands of state police and the FBI. If you don’t know a lot about
Assata and the post Civil Rights Era of the 70’s, I would highly recommend picking
up her autobiography.

Dead Prez—“Happiness”

Dead Prez, known for their classic track “Hip-Hop” come at you with
a song about celebrating life from their 1999 classic, Let’s Get Free. M-1 and Stic
describe the beauty of a summer day in the city. To be the type of revolutionary
that Dead Prez talks about, you have to be able to let go, celebrate and be happy
once in awhile. Otherwise you will get worn down. As the hook indicates, “I feel
great even though we got mad things to deal with/Happiness is all in the mind/Let’s
unwind, and find a reason to smile/I’m just glad to be livin’, feelin’ fine/Leavin’ my
bad times behind feels great and no, we can’t escape from the realness/Happiness
is all in the mind/Let’s unwind, and find a reason to smile/I’m just glad to be alive,
feelin’ fine livin’ life one day at a time/Feelin’ great.”

Erykah Badu—“…And On”

This song is my jam. Erykah Badu is unmatched on this song using her silky smooth
voice combined with witty lyrics. Her 2000 album Mama’s Gun is amazing from
start to finish; however, she is on a whole different level on this track celebrating
her individuality and womanhood. “People always tryin’ to find the world I’m in/I’m the envy of the women and I rule the men/Two fish, one swimmin’ up stream/One swimmin’ down livin’ in a dream.”

The Left—“Statistics”

From the 2010 album Gas Mask, Detroit natives Apollo Brown, The Left and
Invincible challenge the way that people generalize and stereotype others based on
race, religion, economic status and gender. Invincible’s skill of mixing politically
driven and complex lyrics is on full display. “So free your mind up, this is a
reminder/The United States incarcerates more than they do in China/We only five
percent of the world’s pop, but its twenty-five percent of all the world locked up/So
I wonder how to break the cycle, will it ever stop?/If we see people as numbers than
we make em’ check a box.”

Daniel’s Starting Five

Gonjasufi- “She Gone.”

In 2010 Sumach Ecks, better known as Gonjasufi, released an album that transcended genres. Produced by Flying Lotus, Mainframe and The Gaslamp Killer, A Sufi and a Killer mixed psychedelic 60s grooves with ear mashing experimental visions. Considered a sub-genre of alternative hip-hop, the albums best song may be its simplest. “She Gone.” bangs with hard-hitting western-style piano chords and distorted vocals that are neither sang nor spit. “I tried, I gave, I cried, I prayed, I even played father to your kids/And every time I was given, all you ever did is leave us with your hatred.” While the subject matter of the song harps on Ecks distancing himself from the negative force of a woman he once loved, the music itself is where the passion lies, further framing how hip-hop comes in all forms of style and creative grime.

Blakroc- “Stay Off the Fuckin’ Flowers (feat. Raekwon)”

Hip-hop’s tendency to blend and meld sound is one of a kind, but a song like “Stay Off the Fuckin’ Flowers” showcases the genre’s ability to mix with other genres in music. Here we have blues-rock revivalists The Black Keys and Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon going off on a repetitive low bass guitar rumble and flashy electro key progressions. The mix is an exciting look into how expansive the music aspect of hip-hop can be and further demonstrates its power to spread its influence.

Tall Black Guy- “Mon Amie De’Troit”

This new cut from Tall Black Guy glides and glistens while it expands on Motown and the problems that surround it. As much as it punishes the problems, the song also touches on everyone who ignores them in the first place (“Yeah, she’s looking worn and if a dress is what she wear/Then the neighborhood’s are torn/So on and so on you heard it all before.”). If I could have it my way, I’d blast this track while cruising down Jefferson Ave., but for now I’ll just blast it and remember that Michigan is the greatest fucking state this country has to offer.

Childish Gambino- “Toxic (feat. Danny Brown)(produced by: SKYWLKR)

Hip-hop brings people together, and sometimes you just need a deafening beat, some of the games most exciting MC’s and Britney Spears.

Blu and Exile- “First Things First”

One of my favorite songs about impressing someone, “First Things First” comes from Blu and his ability to attack the situation from a different angle. In the song we hear the rapper admit he doesn’t have much money and that what’s real is what he’s stating in the song. Opening he goes, “See it’s so many ways I can approach you/I can either start off like ‘scuse me mis’ but shit that’s too old school/And I can flow to you but that’s too cliché/Plus I don’t bust to bust nuts, I bust over beat breaks.” This in itself creates two full verses of expressive dialogue to try to win over a girl, and Goddamn, Blu just keeps it so real.

March 27th:

Gus’ Starting Five

Blue Scholars- “Blue School”

This Seattle duo consisting of the DJ, Sabzi, and MC, Geologic use their music as a
catalyst for social change and community empowerment. The second cut off their
self-entitled album, “Blue School” serves as a manifesto of sorts as Geologic lays
out the group’s ideological and political stance. “I bleed, for what I believe to be
the truth/nurturing the seed planted in the fertile youth.” And then, “I’m all about
a government that citizens dictate/sick of fuckin’ dealin’ with the president’s
mistakes.”

Apollo Brown & Guilty Simpson- “Truth Be Told”

Hailing from Detroit, producer Apollo Brown lays down a track that combines
R&B samples, field drums and Detroit MC Guilty Simpson to create a smooth and
profound song that speaks to the flaws of human nature. Guilty Simpson is at his
best as he reflects on his life, coming into adolescence and then adulthood. “I didn’t
have the drive, to put in the time to keep my hoop dreams alive/I was busy with the
women/thinkin’ I was livin, all the while slippin,’ losin’ stride.”

The Roots- “Don’t Feel Right”

Off their 2005 album, Game Theory, “Don’t Feel Right” lays out the deep anger and
restlessness of the inner city in the hypocritical post 9/11 era of George W. Bush
and the War on Terror. “The struggle ain’t right up in your face, its more subtle, but
it’s still comin’ across like the bridge and tunnel vision/I try to school these bucks,
but they don’t wanna listen/That’s the reason the system makin’ its paper from
the prison/And that’s the reason we livin’ where they don’t wanna visit/Where the
dope slangin’ keeping swangin’ like Sonny Liston.” With signature Questlove drums,
heavy piano riffs from Kamal and reflective Black Thought lyricism, the Roots show
why they are one of the hardest working, deepest thinking groups in Hip hop.

Lewis Parker- “Dirty Money”

British producer Lewis Parker uses jazz riffs and samples to create innovative music
with witty and attentive lyrics. In “Dirty Money,” Parker addresses the money
behind back-door deals, drugs, violence and its influence on our lives. “Hit man for
hire, six-grand for the sniper/An extra two for the driver.”

Dice Raw- “100”

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just need a good banger that exudes
confidence. From his EP The Greatest Rapper Never: Preservation, Philly native
Dice Raw gives us such a track. “Yeah, blood on my plate, glass of Malbec/Wake the
living dead with my sound check/I’m fresh blood, drippin’ down a hound’s neck/Howlin’ at the moon, I’m in tune with a sound set/You niggas thinking like Jim Jones, “Ballin”/I’m thinking like communist Russia, Stalin.” Gotta love it.

Daniel’s Starting Five

Weerd Science- “Conspiracy Theories w/out Mel Gibson”

Maybe it’s just the mere fact that a member from progressive rock band Coheed and Cambria can distance himself and rap on the side, but Josh Eppard aka Weerd Science is more than just an elaborate act. On “Conspiracy Theories…” Eppard throws you into his world from the get-go and never really lets you breathe. It’s a self-conscious piece, but it also throws the listener into the flawed world we all live in. “I’m just a ghost of my former self/Formin’ a non-formidable more bionicle toxin of mental health/Was never born into wealth/I jumped out of my mother with two horns stickin’ outta myself/God is in the details.”

Clear Soul Forces- “Keep It Movin”

Clear Soul Forces is a Hip hop quartet from Detroit, Michigan that has burst onto the scene out of seemingly nowhere. Compared to past greats Slum Village, Clear Soul Forces embodies a classic stature with a contemporary sound. On “Keep It Movin” the group throws lyrical jabs and mix-matching structure over a synth driven classic cut. It’s everything that new age hip hop should be, and that may be the greatest compliment of them all.

Blackalicious- “Deception”

I picked up Blackalicious’ album Nia in high school after much convincing from the Barnes and Noble cashier, and when I look back on that I’m glad I made the purchase. Not only is Gift of Gab one of the more creative lyricists in the game, he also has the ability to simplify morals without losing touch with his pen and pad. On “Deception” he preaches “don’t let money change you” over a piano that plunks steadily with background coos. “Started cuttin’ off the people he came up wit/Ego blown like his soul had been abducted/Though his heart was once real now material has filled/Up his world and he couldn’t get enough of it.”

Joey Bada$$- “Unorthodox”

There is an argument, which we will undoubtedly get to in due time, about old school Hip hop and the new school. For some it’s the old. For others it’s the new. And for the rest it’s both. Perhaps one of the freshest examples of how you can blend both generations is in Bada$$’ “Unorthodox.” Not only does Joey meld old school flow with new wave inspiration, but he admires his past while retaining what the Hip hop scene has to offer today. To make this song even more suitable, DJ Premier, yes THE DJ Premier is behind the beat. If this isn’t a great example of two Hip hop figures from both generations coming together, then I don’t know what is.

Madvillain- “Great Day”

There are a few underground Hip hop albums awaiting release that are starting to build up Detox-like comparisons: Event II by Deltron 3030, Cannibal Ox’s sophomore album and of course, Madvillainy 2 by Madvillain. I won’t go into when I think they should be released or completed even, because I just want my hands on them eventually, but one thing’s for certain: no matter how much I listen to Madvillainy, it never gets old. What a great day.

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13 thoughts on “The Starting Five

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