Jason Powers, better known as Elzhi, has dealt with the death of close friends and the break-up of his group Slum Village, but he still sounds as passionate as ever.
“It’s more than getting paid. You can’t even put into words how it feels to put the mic out and have the crowd finish your sentence. I love to create. I love to write something, put it down in the studio and play it back. It’s a beautiful feeling man. I do it for the whole experience."
Elzhi joined underground favourites Slum Village in 2001, a group often praised as the reincarnation of A Tribe Called Quest. Legendary producer J Dilla was partly responsible for bringing Elzhi into the group and helped him to get his first paid music gig.
Sadly, Dilla passed away in 2006 after a battle with Lupus disease. Founding Slum Village member Baatin also died three years later due to mysterious circumstances surrounding a struggle with mental illness.
After their 2010 release Villa Manifesto, Elzhi announced his departure from the group citing shady managers and underhanded labels.
Despite a traumatic decade, he says he never considered quitting rap. “The way it affected my music, it made me want to get a lot more personal. You can’t just bottle those feelings up inside, so the only way I know how to get them out is express it through my music. It’s almost therapeutic for me. It’s almost like medicine.”
The Weeknd's second album is a drug-fueled haze of sex and heartache.
After releasing House of Balloons earlier this year, Abel Tesfaye went from obscurity to god-like worship. On Thursday, the Toronto based singer further broadens his soundscape.
Instead of trying to repeat the success of his previous work, he ditches the catchy hooks and trash talking by revealing a more emotional side. His falsetto glides effortlessly over atmospheric production on tracks like 'Lonely Star' and 'Rolling Stone', and he briefly flirts with reggae during 'Heaven or Las Vegas'.
Even Drake makes a worthy appearance, somehow managing not to bore the ears off the listener with his usual cheesiness. While it's not as instantly rewarding as its predecessor, Thursday has enough great moments to continue The Weekend's cult-like buzz.
Look for the third part of this sacred R&B trilogy later in the year.
By Jimmy Ness
After the near classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II, Raekwon continues his newly rejuvenated career with a fifth theatrical project.
Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang is backed by producers including Alchemist and Scram Jones, who successfully emulate the classic Wu sound pioneered by the absent RZA, with booming cinematic beats and samples of kung fu classics. Raekwon’s rhymes and impenetrable slang are still as sharp as ever, but with a personal twist as he explores his stomping ground of Staten Island. The album stumbles briefly due to its length and a few poorly selected features, but Raekwon holds his own against lyrical heavyweights Nas, Ghostface Killah and surprise pick, Black Thought.
While RZA seems to be busy with meditation and movies, Raekwon keeps the Wu-Tang movement alive with more gripping storytelling from the slums of Shaolin.
By Jimmy Ness
When you are a pre-teen it’s perfectly acceptable to love a celebrity. But if you are over 18, you are probably a creep with a restraining order.
Admittedly, I try to keep my fanboyism for Wu Tang a secret, but sometimes it just takes control. This is one of those times.
Although I’m a relatively new Wu fan, I have been looking forward to this album for a long time. It was originally announced in 2005 and is the constantly delayed sequel to the classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, released fourteen years prior.
Like many others, I accepted the common belief that the 90’s heyday was over and it was ring-tone rap from here on out. However, despite my worst fears, Raekwon lives up to the hype and delivers a modern classic.
Surprisingly, OB4CL2 maintains the cinematic feel pioneered by the original, but without RZA completely commanding the boards. This time around production is shared between the late J Dilla, Dr Dre, Pete Rock and Marley Marl amongst others.
The album follows the Mafioso theme of the previous release and Rae still has the grimiest slang. The more you listen, the more you’ll uncover new metaphors underneath his cryptic wordplay.
Guests are also on point with features from Ghostface, GZA, Masta Killa, Slick Rick, Inspectah Deck, and even Cappadonna’s performance is up to standard again. I missed seeing another guest verse from Nas on a sequel to Verbal Intercourse, but lyricism is still where OB4CL2 shines.
For a fan of Wu Tang or Hip hop in general, this is a 22 track masterpiece.
Forget Blueprint 3.
By Jimmy Ness
The most overrated and hated collaborate on an album that’s both brilliant and flawed.
Fans were practically wetting themselves in anticipation for Watch The Throne and on great tracks like ‘Otis’ and ‘Lift Off’ you can see why. Jay-Z is lyrically reinvigorated after competing against this generation’s smarmy 19-year-old rappers.
Kanye’s creativity is also in fine form with unique production and well-chosen guest musicians including RZA, Frank Ocean and The Dream. The duo covers multiple genres from Dubstep to Soul, and even prove they can out-do swag rappers on ‘Niggas In Paris’. Unfortunately the album sounds more like a collection of singles than a solid project. With so many ideas involved, tracks like ‘H.A.M’ and ‘Illest Motherf*cker Alive’ are almost overbearing in their lack of simplicity. Luckily the great moments outshine the lousy ones and witnessing the worldwide frenzy surrounding the album is almost as fun as listening to it.
By Jimmy Ness
Aubrey Graham aka Drake, shot his way to musical fame pretty quickly after the release of his acclaimed mixtape So Far Gone and subsequent signing to Young Money records. However, cookie cutter lyrics and bland production make Thank Me Later an unmemorable listen.
Collaborators Noah “40” Shebib and Boi-1da handle the majority of production by helping craft 10 of the album’s 14 downbeat songs. Admittedly this works in terms of consistency, but it also creates another problem. No standout tracks.
Songs like Fancy and Miss Me manage to scrape by mainly thanks to surprisingly good guest spots from Lil Wayne and T.I. But from the whiny Show Me A Good Time to the boring Thank Me Now, you won’t hear anything close to the quality of Drake’s mixtape tracks.
Lyrically this is about as uninspired as it gets. Drake is either rapping about his glamorous life or boring the listener with cheesy retellings of numerous ‘complicated’ relationships.
A particularly terrible moment occurs when Drake name-drops Wu Tang Clan and compares himself to the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard with the line ‘I’m the Osiris of this sh*t’. A safe teen-rap sensation comparing himself to a charismatic crack addict couldn’t be further from the truth.
Drake also takes the unique punch-line flow rapper Big Sean pioneered on tracks like Supa Dupa Flow to new lows with cringe inducing lines including: ‘I’ve got these new rappers nervous, prom night’, ‘this time I’m really going off, fireworks,’ or ‘we shut it down, Onyx’.
And don’t even get me started on Drake’s auto-tuned singing. Yuck.
Simply put Thank Me Later is not pop enough for pop fans and not rap enough for rap fans, instead it sits somewhere awkwardly in the middle and Drake doesn’t seem to have the charisma to pull off either.
By Jimmy Ness
Oh snap! Del the Funky Homosapien sure knows how to pick awesome beats.
Ice Cube’s less famous, but remarkably unique cousin uses a mixture of robotic, cartoonish and funky production on this three disc collection, which includes an original album and two previously internet-only releases.
Del has remained deeply underground despite dabbling in the mainstream with a hit in the 90s and guest verses on the first Gorillaz album. His typically odd lyrics cover subjects not usually found in rap, such as humour, space and science.
However, fans looking for the truly absurd lyricism found on the classic Deltron 5050 project will be slightly disappointed.
On latest release Golden Era, Del portrays himself as a grumpy rapper rather than the intergalactic MC we love. His technical ability is still intact, but hearing 40 minutes of battle verses and bravado can be tiring.
Thankfully, digital albums Automatik Statik and Funkman maintain Del’s exciting lyrical persona, but fans are still begging for a Deltron sequel.
By Jimmy Ness