Independent hip hop is often one of the only modern refuges for throwback and more R&B infused rapping. Save for some Wyclef Jean, the days of relaxed rapping seem to be all but gone in the mainstream. North Carolina rapper KASH, however is trying to bring back this more relaxed style, while adding to the cleverly used autotune canon through his interesting use of harmonies.
His new single “Feels Like” finds him alienated from his peers after trying to focus on his work and dealing with some bad seeds in his life. KASH even digs into the classic dilemma of shutting yourself down after being hurt by enough bad friends, eventually turning you into the cold person who lets nobody in and seems like the type of person you’re shutting out.
Sonically the production of the track is extremely satisfying, from the deep bass note pops to the open feel in the rest of the track. The sparse percussion works thanks to how it’s accented in the mix, really hitting on each note. Although it may come down to personal preference the monotone way the vocals are mixed and delivered do make the song feel more bland than it deserves.
For fans of the EPs D.O.P.E. and Illustrated The EP, the feisty rapper Da-Wolf is back and badder than ever. Teaming up with American hip hop and rap artist Rheem, Da-Wolf has just dropped her latest EP Spring Heat, and once again proves to audiences that rap is alive and well.
Produced by Mean SK, Spring Heat features three epic tracks plus two bonus tracks. In Spring Heat it seems that Da-Wolf’s music is a bit more polished and refined. And by pitting her awesome raps against Rheem’s, Da-Wolf isn’t shy about challenging the world of rap music.
Boldly proclaiming that she’s “just barely gettin’ started” in the opening track, Da-Wolf’s sparky attitude fits perfectly with the twangy guitar sound and killer beats. Rheem comes in half way through the track with his powerful and aggressive voice and lyrics, and is the perfect contrast to Da-Wolf’s. The track ends with Da-Wolf’s repetition of the chorus, and as the final bass beat pounds through the speakers, audiences will be eager to hear what Da-Wolf has warmed them up for.
Enter “Clash” and the orchestral string loop intro that is sure to through off listeners. Yet, in its own right, the intro has an unusual epic feel to it. Unusual in that Mean SK, Da-Wolf, and Rheem crossed the boundaries of musical genres in order to create something new, something sophisticated. And as the intro music fades into the background, given some sick beats, “Clash” evolves into a badass track without equal. Sure in his lyrics, Rheem challenges authority, which isn’t something new to rap, but if you listen closely, the mention of X-men, Wolverine, X-manor, and Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters are very clear. Then there is Da-Wolf’s amazing lines and her allusions to X-Men’s Storm and Marvel’s fictitious African nation of Wakanda. Fans of Da-Wolf’s references to geek and nerd culture are sure to love “Clash”.
Spring Heat finishes off at the other end of the spectrum with the very real “Warning Shots”. The song features some very typical rap and hip hop elements, but it is Da-Wolf and Rheem’s challenge to the music industry, and the world in general, that make this track super exciting. Clearly, Da-Wolf is a force that won’t let anything stand in her way.
On Live From The Pentagon by 3bubble & J.Gray, the two giants of the genre clash and corroborate to make a record that is musically monolithic. Produced by Dope Boyz, Mantra and AllArounda, the sound is just as much Bone Thugs-N-Harmony as it is Chance The Rapper. Slated for a May 30 release, this record has a lot of good music and a rollercoaster of vibes for you to get into your brain.
“The Life” begins the album with some beautiful brass, quickly veering into fast, cutthroat rhymes, which continue for another 13 tracks I’d like to add. “Betrayal ft. Tyler Raspberry and Seano Smith” has the groove of a classic RnB tune, with a sensual hook at start, the featured rappers adding another two dimensions to the lyrical verses.
“Don’t Lie” is my favourite track. It has a killer beat that characterizes the record’s unique production. And the raps are literal fire, quick and smart, calling out cowards who make excuses instead of working hard: “don’t lie to yourself.” A hard track to follow, “This One” does what it can with an average west coast vibe but the whole crew keeps the rhymes, and beats, regulated.
“Get Up ft. Young B.E.” takes an EDM joint and turns it into an awesome track. Continuing the conceptual material theme of contemporary and socially conscious with an exploration of the role of a black person in America today, shouting out to Dr. King and Black Lives Matter. “Turn It Down” is a suave and refreshing change of pace, rolling with a jazzy piano track and sultry bass line. “Hands Up ft. DJ Baby Roo” is a heavily dub influenced party song, testing the limits of the record’s genre infusing.
The final track “What If I Told You ft. Lil Keke” concludes the sound like any good artist, leaving the audience wanting more. A solid summary of the Live From The Pentagon tone with lyrical content contrasting rapid staccato to minimalistic beat noises, and vice versa at the song’s key buildups, making for a sonically pleasing aural experience.
For those looking for a fix of classic R&B, Montreal’s Wayne Tennant has the tip. His latest album Life In A Minor Key mixes styles old and new resulting in an album both familiar and unknown. Emulating classics like Kimbra and R. Kelly, the album pulls some great inspiration, but how does it stand on its own?
The album opens on the melancholy notes of “The Spell” that mixes dark tones with some infectious rhythms to craft a song that moves both emotionally and physically. The vocal booms in the later half of the track push the emotions over the top creating moments that are incredibly soothing. Things get upbeat on “Crash” with arpeggiating synths, deep bass and some light drum machines mixing together to create a smooth dance track perfect for elevating spirits.
The beat takes the steering wheel on “Come Kiss Me (feat. Hitchem Khalfa)” where a mix of horns and whispered vocals find Tennant emulating Kimbra. The background vocals and horn solos add a finessed touch to the song that give it even more class. “In A Box (feat. Nadia Bashalani)” finds Tennant singing a passionate duet on a bass driven yet ambient track with an undeniably wintery feel to it. Every chorus has a bittersweet pop sound to it with hints of Phantogram.
Acoustic guitar brings the album to older R&B on “Pissed” where Tennant sings a throwback breakup song that is still enjoyable despite being fairly derivative of older songs in the genre. “I Only Have One Heart (feat. Ali El Farouk)” is a harmony-driven track that pushes the vocals to the forefront, letting them drive most of the track, with glitchy percussion providing the rest of colour. The ambient guitar solo with bell percussion provide a welcome break in the song and add a slightly exotic feeling to the tail end of the song.
“Get Away” goes back to the bass and synth pop that inspires many of the early tracks of the record, with more harmonized vocals to change it up from the earlier tracks. The breakdown in the middle of the track is a delicious stop that lands the technique perfectly. There’s a gritty bass sound lying under “Tell Me” that has the most playful vocals of the album and some interesting Asian-inspired strings adding to the songs syncopated rhythms. The song ends as the beat, harmonies strings and bass come together in perfect sync to create a tapestry of sound that satisfyingly locks into itself.
“Die With Me” brings in a dreamy amount of echo to its harp, resulting in a tune that feels like a long lost R. Kelly track. The song’s vocal drop-off feels triumphant before the song ends on a light hip-hop beat outro. The album ends on the commentary heavy “Why (feat. Malika Tirolien)” which finds Tennant talking about what divides people and Tirolien’s soprano cuts through easily to ask similar questions. The duets delivered by the two give the song an edge on the rest of the album and close it on its most impressive number.
If you thought the 90s were dead, one listen to the new EP from DA-WOLF might just change that. The appropriately titled Illustrated The EP mixes her amazing technique with samples from classic 90’s cartoons, many from Cartoon Network, and a whole heap of inspired references geeks will enjoy.
The album opens quite ceremoniously on the track “Do It” which after some initial overuse of upwards vocal inflection gets into some great verse-spitting, with many references to Dragon Ball Z (from Piccolo to Krillin). The track is only somewhat held back by the occasionally noticeable low-quality of the vocals, and the over repetitive chorus that doesn’t do its verses justice. The album corrects this with “Supreme (feat. Rheem)“, featuring a killer string sample presumably taken from her usual pool of 90’s cartoons. The verses are similarly vicious, culminating in the cheerleader-esque chanting of the letters of the title’s letters.
“Watch Your Mouth” kicks up the bass and sets it over a smoothly edited sample of a kid saying the title phrase. DA-WOLF drops some great lines here too, like “With the mind with more complexities than ovaries/talking with your tongue I’m a get you snipped like vasectomies,” and references to Artemis and Tom & Jerry, being the tip of the iceberg. “Let’s Kick It (Nostalgik Muzik)” brings in a delightfully cheesy sample, sounding right out of a 70’s TV show, the song’s fun references make it feel like it should be under the genre 90s kid-nerd rap at parts referencing Scooby Doo, Batman on PS4, Catdog, N64, Breaking Bad and Sade, to the point it feels like DA-WOLF must be a geek with a pension for rap or got some dialogue from the Deadpool script writers. Unfortunately the song is marred by more badly recorded vocals, that feel like a result of bad mixing more than lack of ability, it’s a little jarring considering it’s not consistent throughout every song.
“Cruise Control” features the most unexpected sample in recent memory, pulling the melody from the episode title sequence of every Rugrats episode, immediately referencing this fact in the line “Like a rugrat in a candy store/I get a sugar rush,” and referencing Reptar and Spike later on. The vocals fit the melody perfectly, driving each line effortlessly to a sample that works way better than it has any right to. “Hype [Renegades Anthem]” flows sublimely on a sample of the Dexter’s Laboratory theme, the additional beats work well outside of some occasional out of place hi hats. The chorus chanting of “Let me, see you, get hype/Rene, gades, damn, right!” aches for chants at any live show it gets performed at.
The album closes on the trap like “Schemes” which provides some of the most promising production of the album proving DA-WOLF works just as well outside the 90’s cartoons as when she’s surrounded by them. The track is topped off with some weird clips and a cool sample of Quincy Jones’ Ironside which many will recognize from Kill Bill.
While it has a few blemishes DA-WOLF’s latest release uses its cartoon samples incredibly imaginatively and she really nails her lyrics consistently. With a little polish on the recording of some of the vocals it could very well compete with many mainstream rap records. Overall the gimmick subsides quickly leaving with an album that’s as fun as it is impressive.