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MUSIC» The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
MUSIC» Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
Welcome to the February edition of Glaciers of Ice. What's the news? G Child got kicked off the White Rapper Show, 9th Wonder and Little Brother are parting ways, and Glaciers is days away from seeing Kanye West, Gnarls Barkley, and Lupe Fiasco in Vegas (which will be covered right here at LAS). Enough chitchat, let's get to the music.
The one album that many others and I have been anxiously awaiting this year is Sean Price's new one, Jesus Price Superstar (Duck Down). Granted, following up the amazing success that was Monkey Barz would not be an easy task, and this difficulty shows on the new joint. The main problem here is that the record kind of gets off to a slow start. It's not really until the fourth or fifth track that things really start to click, unlike the immediately bang-ocity that began Barz. But once things heat up, open your windows. Price's grumbling flow remains intact as he works with a bevy of producers including 9th Wonder, 10 For the Triad, Tommy Tee, Khrysis, and Ill Mind. Heltah Skeltah partner Rock shows up to reunite the Magnum Force on "P-Body," a song that is weakened by its flaccid, throwaway 9th Wonder beat. Buckshot, Ruste Juxx, and Flood come with the belligerent flow on "Cardiac," the point at which the album starts to shine. Fast-forward to the brief "Directors Cut," where Ruck intersperses bursts of rapping with little spoken shouts, and on to "Hearing Aid," and things are on point. Price is the Woody Allen of gully hip-hop, and his self-deprecating slant, though slightly lessened, continues to wind its way through his rhymes on Jesus Price: "I'm such a failure," starts out the excellent track "Violent." It's this humbleness that makes his nasty sex raps and violent stream of consciousness sound utterly appealing, perhaps to the listener's detriment. Jesus Price is no waste of time, especially with its compact 45-minute running time, but it's not quite the follow-up that Price has in him.
Remember Large Professor? The former Main Source member has been largely absent from the public eye in hip-hop for some time now, but he's returned as host of Thisish Vol. 1 (Thisish), a compilation of broken beat/hip-hop/experimental downtempo production work from New York artists. While many of these are names you've probably never heard of - Marshall Law, DJ Masa, Cresh Frazy - this comp, basically a beat CD, showcases some pretty innovative tracks that are just begging to be rhymed over. Marshall Law's "Thought Process" sounds like a Vegas production hip-hop number, big keyboard lines and chopped up rhythms, while Crazy Fresh's "As The Arrow Fell" is more mid-'90s drum-and-bass-influenced space jazz. It's not entirely clear what Extra P has to do with the compilation, besides contributing one track, the big-beat-banging "Large Professor Got Heat!" that switches up several times over its running time (and is mixed and arranged by Marshall Law), and speaking some words on "Necessary Evils." Nevertheless, the compilation is far more interesting than most of its kind, and hopefully these producers will get some studio time with some good emcees in the future.
The latest entrant into the Wu-Tang Clan family's catalogue is Sunz of Man member Hell Razah's Renaissance Child (Nature Sounds), the gruff-voiced, Red Hook native's debut solo effort. Beginning with "Nativity," a slightly weird intro that features a crying baby and a woman praying in Hebrew, the record solidly thumps along, if never reaching the heights of, say, Masta Killa's solo efforts. The production, contributed by Dirty Needlez, Dev 1, Bronze Nazareth, and 4th Disciple, among others, is all vintage, morose, and RZA-influenced - which is welcome and only natural, since he guided many of these producers' careers. The title track is one of the best on here, featuring a member of Razah's Black Market Militia group - Tragedy Khadafi - as well as Timbo King and R.A. the Rugged Man. "I'm hip-hop before Sugar Hill signed a deal / Before Studio 54 poppin' pills," goes the chorus, and each emcee contributes further reasons why he is a real vet, culminating in R.A.'s super-dope verse ("I'm Canibus before he met Wyclef"). But tell me he's not copping Big Pun's cadence here. Maybe it's a tribute, who knows. MF DOOM contributes one track, "Project Jazz," a disappointing fast-rap jazz-beat, considering the high expectations since he shows up in his Viktor Vaughn guise. He's not helped out by Talib Kweli's appearance here either. But let's face it; this Nature Sounds release is typical of their output, shining brighter than most underground releases these days, with the exception of Stones Throw. Let's see if a new Sunz of Man is up next.
And speaking of the RZA, the Wu-Tang originator has made a very questionable decision with the introduction of Brooklyn's Free Murda into the family, with the release of his debut album, Let Freedom Reign (X-Ray). Over a bunch of cheesy keyboard beats, Murda raps (often off-beat) about a variety of mundane subjects. There are a few good tracks: "My Black Nina," produced by RZA, plays on Run DMC's "My Adidas, " and "Yeah!!!" offers some solace with its weird harpsichord and Casio thump beat, once again produced by the RZA. Other than that, this is a pretty forgettable record. It seems the screening process for entry into the Clan has gotten pretty weak…
Thirstin Howl III and Rack-Lo bring the gritty, gully, street anthems on their new collaboration, Lo Down and Dirty (Class A). The shit is seriously gritty - "I'm the hood Bill Gates, Wall Street entrepre-nigga," raps Howl on the title track. His flow fits tight with his Skillionaire Enterprises partner, as the pair's nasal spitting epitomizes the underground anthems that they cut their teeth on. Featured guests include Holland's Juicy on "City Slicking," where her singing on the hook is devoid of any cheese, and Australia's Clinic on "5 Finger Discount," a Fat Beats Radio hit. Here's a whine-y record reviewer complaint for you - this promo copy may have more promo branding ("This is a Class A Records release for promotional use only") on it than any I've ever heard, rendering it almost impossible to truly enjoy. Shit appears about 10 times on every song. Nevertheless, seems like a good record, so I'll let it slide… this time.
The Most Underrated is the title of Domingo's new album, out on Latch Key Recordings, and it pretty much sums up his career. Here's a sampling of artists he's produced for: Big Daddy Kane, Channel Live, Cocoa Brovaz, Das EFX, Eminem, Masta Ace, Non-Phixion, and Sean Price. Yet his name probably doesn't ring a bell to all but the most serious hip-hop heads. His new effort is a tour de force of beats and rhymes, featuring an all-star cast including Heltah Skeltah, Canibus (finally sounding hungry again on "All Clap"), Joell Ortiz (OK, not an all-star but wrecking shit on the spelling-rap "Exactly"), and Guru. Maybe it's his beats - nothing outlandishly groundbreaking, just solid hip-hop bangers - that make emcees like Guru, Big Daddy Kane, and Kool G Rap sound like energetic young bloods. Or maybe he's the kind of producer that just inspires greatness. Either way, The Most Underrated is a surprisingly tight outing that demands to be heard.
Sadly, one of X-Clan's founders, Professor X, died from complications due to spinal meningitis last year. Nevertheless, the group has reunited after almost ten years of inactivity with a new album, Return From Mecca, out on Suburban Noize. The group now consists of the bass-voiced Brother J, Ultraman Ra Hanna, ACL, DJ Fat Jack, Kumu M. Haynes, and Master China. The new album finds the group basically picking up from where they left off, although with an updated sound in terms of production that works well on tracks like the futuristic "Positrons," but not so much on the cheesy keyboard bass of "Brother, Brother." Some prominent names in hip-hop show up, including KRS-1, Chali 2na, and Abstract Rude. Damian Marley also shows up on the reggae-tinged "Culture United." There are some unfortunate guest appearances as well, with members of Kottonmouth Kings and Papa Roach lending their unwanted vocal skills. Professor X is definitely missed, and his trademark "This is protected by the red, the black, and the green, with a key… sissy!!!!" shows up as a sample on "Voodoo," a track assisted by RBX and Quazedelic. The subject matter of the group continues to deal with Afrocentricity and issues of racism; thankfully, they haven't decided to enter the world of bling-rap. But how you will respond to this new collection is probably dependent on how you responded to the Clan initially. Classics like To the East Blackwards will never be matched, but X-Clan has definitely managed to pick up the pieces and come back with an indie release that shows they are still on top of their game.
Surprise of the month is a new vinyl and digital-only EP from Detroit's Black Milk, Broken Wax (Music House). This 8-song gem is a precursor to the March release of Milk's Fat Beats debut, which will be covered in next month's Glaciers (and may just be the best thing the label has released in some time). Black Milk has already made his name as a producer, working with artists including Lloyd Banks and Pharoahe Monche, and as half of the group BR Gunna. Broken Wax is full of the dirty digi-soul beats that Dilla, Dabrye, and Slum Village have pushed for years, and all songs are self-produced on the EP. Check out the standout track, "Danger," a collaboration with T3 and Phat Kat, where every letter of "dangerous" is incorporated into a verse bustling with vigor and creativity. Keep an eye out for Black Milk.
And that's all for this month. Stay tuned until March, and until then... e-mail with thoughts and insults, and send me yer shit! I'll listen to it. Glaciers is ghost like Casper.
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.
See other articles by Jonah Flicker.
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