Pac Div – Mania!
Free download here

March is a pretty stacked month when it comes to hip-hop releases I’m looking forward to hearing. I’m hyped for seven releases this month – Lupe Fiasco’s Lasers, Pac Div’s Mania!, Curren$y’s Muscle Car Chronicles, Raekwon’s Shaolin vs Wu-Tang, Travis Barker’s Give the Drummer Some (which isn’t exactly hip-hop but most of the guests are rappers so I’m counting it), CunninLynguists’ Oneirology, and Wiz Khalifa’s Rolling Papers. I’m planning on reviewing all seven of these albums. The fourth is Pac Div’s Mania!.

This mixtape really just feels like something to make existing Pac Div fans happy while we’re waiting on their album. They really aren’t doing anything groundbreaking here but they’re sticking to their style of being good rappers with Cool Kids-style minimalist beats.

Mania! feels a bit inconsistent compared to Pac Div’s previous two releases (Church League Champions and Don’t Mention It). They set the bar pretty high with those releases and they didn’t quite meet my expectations with Mania!. There are some great tracks here (Anti-Freeze, Somethin’, Still a Knucklehead), but there are also a few songs that sound bland and as if I’ve heard them before.

One thing that annoyed me a little bit was that it was hosted by Don Cannon; Pac Div’s last two mixtapes had no DJs yelling but Cannon’s yelling just about ruins the first verse of Anti-Freeze on this one. For the most part throughout the tape he’s pretty bearable, but when will retarded mixtape DJs like Cannon learn that shouting your name just gets everyone to hate you? I get that he wants to get his name out there but all he’s doing is being remembered as the guy who ruins everything.

So overall, I thought this was a solid mixtape that will hold over existing fans of the group. I don’t think it will make that many new fans – Church League Champions is the best mixtape to go to if you’re looking to get into these guys.
Score: 7.25/10


Travis Barker – Give the Drummer Some

March is a pretty stacked month when it comes to hip-hop releases I’m looking forward to hearing. I’m hyped for seven releases this month – Lupe Fiasco’s Lasers, Pac Div’s Mania!, Curren$y’s Muscle Car Chronicles, Raekwon’s Shaolin vs Wu-Tang, Travis Barker’s Give the Drummer Some (which isn’t exactly hip-hop but most of the guests are rappers so I’m counting it), CunninLynguists’ Oneirology, and Wiz Khalifa’s Rolling Papers. I’m planning on reviewing all seven of these albums. The third is Travis Barker’s Give the Drummer Some.

Let me get this out of the way before anything else – when it comes to Give the Drummer Some, it really makes no difference if you are a blink-182 fan or not. I’ve seen people who love blink-182 really dislike this album and at the same time I’ve seen people who don’t care for blink-182 say they really liked this album. To give you an idea where I’m coming from, I think blink-182’s alright but I’m not a huge fan or anything.

Give the Drummer Some is not a pop punk album at all. For all intents and purposes this is a hip-hop album that has a big rock influence. Since Travis Barker himself doesn’t rap or sing and since an instrumental album probably wouldn’t be all that interesting to most, these tracks all have guest appearances. The guests on this album are mostly rappers but after that they’re about as random as you can get — guests range from Kid Cudi to Tech N9ne to Lupe Fiasco.

Since every track has different featured artists on them, this album is a bit hit-or-miss for me. My favorite tracks are the ones where the rappers on the track are aggressive and complement Travis Barker’s style well. One track in particular that really stands out is “Carry It” where Raekwon and RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan team up with Tom Morello (Morello just sticks to guitar). RZA’s aggressive delivery throughout most of the track really fits with Barker. Another track I enjoyed was “Can a Drummer Get Some” which features (The) Game, Rick Ross, Swizz Beatz, and Lil’ Wayne – Wayne could’ve derailed this song but he delivered one of his better verses in recent memory.

On the flip side of that are the guys who aren’t known for being in your face. I really like The Cool Kids but their laid-back delivery doesn’t really work on “Jump Down“. Snoop Dogg’s verse on “Knockin” really didn’t interest me. One laid-back rapper that I did like on this album was Kid Cudi on “Cool Head“. It’s a strange song and sounds like Travis Barker remixed a track that could be on one of Cudi’s Man on the Moon albums – the combo of Barker and Cudi is a disaster on paper but it worked surprisingly well for me.

Generally speaking the good on this album really outweighs the bad. It’s different compared to most of the stuff I’m used to and pretty enjoyable. After listening to four of the seven March releases I was looking forward to, this is surprisingly my favorite of them (I haven’t reviewed Pac Div’s Mania! yet but this is slightly better). That said, I’ll be shocked if it stays my favorite by the end of the month. I’m guessing that Curren$y will get an 8 or higher from me and it looks like CunninLynguists are about to drop an atomic bomb on the rest of hip-hop. Let’s not talk about Wiz Khalifa.
Score: 7.75/10

CunninLynguists – A Piece of Strange

Prior to 2005 the CunninLynguists made a bit of a name for themselves among big hip-hop fans with 2001’s Will Rap for Food and 2003’s Southernunderground, but based on those albums I’m not sure anyone could have seen A Piece of Strange coming. I’m a big fan of their first two albums but they took a much different approach on both of them. They didn’t really create their signature sound yet – they weren’t doing much that was new on those first two albums but they were very well-executed.

Both Deacon the Villain and Kno were known as rappers who used humorous and somewhat immature wordplay to get their thoughts across and none of that carried over onto A Piece of Strange. This is a very mature album and you won’t hear any songs where they just list off ways to mess with people anymore (sidenote: that song from Will Rap For Food, “Fukinwichu”, should still be listened to because it’s hilarious. “Challenge Christopher Reeve to a game of Twister” / “Kidnap an Amish family and lock ’em inside a Circuit City”).

I’ve noticed a bit of a trend with CunninLynguists albums (and this is one trend that A Piece of Strange actually does follow). All of their group albums start off with an intro song that has no rapping on it which transitions into the second song on the album. The second song is always the one of the fastest tracks on the album (Lynguistics / Southernunderground / Valley of Death). “Since When” is the second track on this album and it too is an energetic song. Even though it’s more or less braggadocio rap, upon hearing the song longtime fans would have immediately been able to tell that this album was going to be a step into a more mature direction for CunninLynguists.

“Since When” works as a great way to draw the listener to the album (it was the first song I’ve ever heard by these guys and was hooked immediately) but after that track the album shifts to a slower, more somber tone. This is really the type of album that is designed to be listened to late at night with the lights off. Kno did a lot of rapping on the group’s first two albums but on this one he stepped away from the mic (he has one verse on the whole album) to concentrate on the production and it was a really smart move. This is one of the best produced hip-hop albums of all time.

One thing I’ve seemed to notice with this album is that it’s so well-rounded that fans of the album can’t agree on what tracks are the best. Everyone seems to have different favorites on this album. My favorite track on the first half of the album is “Brain Cell”, which is the only track on the album that has verses from all three members in the group. The second verse (Kno’s) might be my favorite verse I’ve ever heard.

I don’t want to make it sound like I’m short-changing the first half of this album because the first half is great, but the second half of the album is just mindblowing. The last six tracks in particular are probably my favorite stretch of 6 tracks in a row that I’ve heard on any album.

The first of these six tracks is “The Gates”, assisted by QN5 labelmate Tonedeff. I know this review is starting to sound like hyperbole overload, but this is one of the five best hip-hop songs I’ve ever heard (and also one of the slowest). It’s four minutes long, but I wish it was longer because when it’s over it always leaves me wanting more. That’s never a bad thing.

After an interlude the next full-length song is “Hellfire” which starts off a little stupid in the first 20 seconds but the rest of it is awesome. This and “Since When” are the only fast/energetic songs on the entire album; this one is really something that deserves to be played really loud to appreciate it fully. After “Hellfire” comes “Remember Me (Abstract/Reality)” — if I’m ever debating the best hip-hop producers of all-time with someone I’ll throw Kno in the conversation and link them to this song. It’s an instrumental that’s over four minutes long yet it still manages to be one of the best songs on a stellar album.

The album closes with “What’ll You Do?” and then “The Light”. These are slower tracks that are an excellent way to close out the album. It never ceases to amaze me how whenever I listen to A Piece of Strange all the way through, these tracks make me look back and think “that was really awesome”.

I could probably talk about this album for another 1,000 words but I won’t. I haven’t even touched on the fact that this is a concept album and tells a story from song to song (and the story just adds to how brilliant I think this album is). A Piece of Strange is really an unbelievable album from start to finish.
Score: 10/10


Raekwon – Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang

March is a pretty stacked month when it comes to hip-hop releases I’m looking forward to hearing. I’m hyped for seven releases this month – Lupe Fiasco’s Lasers, Pac Div’s Mania!, Curren$y’s Muscle Car Chronicles, Raekwon’s Shaolin vs Wu-Tang, Travis Barker’s Give the Drummer Some (which isn’t exactly hip-hop but most of the guests are rappers so I’m counting it), CunninLynguists’ Oneirology, and Wiz Khalifa’s Rolling Papers. I’m planning on reviewing all seven of these albums. The second is Raekwon’s Shaolin vs Wu-Tang.

Raekwon took a bit of a risk by choosing not to include any contributions from the RZA on Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang. While none of the producers on this album precisely replicate what the RZA is able to do, for the most part this still sounds how a solo Wu-Tang album should sound. There are a couple duds production-wise though, such as “Rock N Roll” which inexplicably uses autotune on the chorus. A song like that really doesn’t sound like a Wu-Tang song.

Overall this album has a grittier and more “raw” sound than most of 2009’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2. This includes Raekwon himself. Even though OB4CL2 generally received really good reviews one of the criticisms was that Rae sounded too laid back and even lazy on some of the tracks. That isn’t the case here; Raekwon’s rapping is really in your face.

An album as good as this one is more or less what I was expecting from Raekwon this time around. It’s not a disappointment but at the same time I really doubt I’ll be listening to this months or even weeks from now. Longtime Wu-Tang/Raekwon fans will probably enjoy this album but for everyone else it’s pretty skippable.
Score: 6.75/10


Chip Tha Ripper – Gift Raps
Free download here

I was really looking forward to seven hip-hop releases this month and Gift Raps wasn’t one of them (nothing against Chip, I just wasn’t really familiar with him outside of a few guest spots). However, this will probably go down as one of the best releases of the month and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see it on my “top 11 albums of the year” list at the end of the year.

Like I said I didn’t really know much about Chip Tha Ripper – the only places I’ve heard him were with features on Kid Cudi’s albums and Pac Div’s Don’t Mention It. What really sparked my interest about this mixtape is the fact that Chuck Inglish from The Cool Kids produced this in its entirety. I’m a fan of The Cool Kids primarily for their production, and Gift Raps sounds like it could be a Cool Kids album. If you like The Cool Kids I’d really recommend downloading this especially since it was released for free.

For those unfamiliar with The Cool Kids, Chuck Inglish uses really stripped down beats with lots of kicks and snares in them. Instead of just making a 5-second beat and looping the beat the whole way through, he usually likes to switch things up a little bit throughout the song to make sure it doesn’t get stale. He creates a pretty unique sound and I’ve heard of people who aren’t big fans of hip-hop really enjoying what The Cool Kids do.

I’ve only been talking about the production so far but Chip Tha Ripper is a very talented rapper as well.  If I had to compare him to anyone, I’d say his voice sounds like a mix of Gucci Mane and Kid Cudi when he’s rapping. That’s really selling Chip short though because he has a much better flow and is much more interesting to listen to than either of those rappers (I like Cudi and Gucci’s alright, but their rapping ability isn’t the main reason I like either one of them).

Gift Raps came out of nowhere for me but it was a pretty pleasant surprise. It was released on March 1st 2011 and as far as I’m concerned it’s the best release of the year up to that point. It’s making me want to go out and get some of Chip Tha Ripper’s earlier stuff as well.
Score: 8.75/10

Lupe Fiasco – Lasers

March is a pretty stacked month when it comes to hip-hop releases I’m looking forward to hearing. I’m hyped for seven releases this month – Lupe Fiasco’s Lasers, Pac Div’s Mania!, Curren$y’s Muscle Car Chronicles, Raekwon’s Shaolin vs Wu-Tang, Travis Barker’s Give the Drummer Some (which isn’t exactly hip-hop but most of the guests are rappers so I’m counting it), CunninLynguists’ Oneirology, and Wiz Khalifa’s Rolling Papers. I’m planning on reviewing all seven of these albums and the first is Lasers.

You know there’s a problem when an album’s not even out yet and the artist himself is giving interviews talking about how much he hates his own album. Usually artists wait months or years before acknowledging something like that since they typically want to sell as many albums as possible even if it is subpar – but to come out this early and call it crap is unheard of.

As I started listening to this album I didn’t get what all the hate was about. “Letting Go” is a very good opening track – Lupe’s rapping is fine, the production is pretty good, and the hook is really catchy (which isn’t something you can say for a lot of Lupe Fiasco songs). Even though I liked this track, the rest of the album happened and I completely understood what the hate was about.

“Words I Never Said” is okay, I guess. It was originally supposed to be an Airplanes-type song but Lupe instead injected his heavy political opinions into the song which is starting to come off as repetitive. He’s listed off injustices in the world many times before and here he is doing it again. Skylar Grey is serviceable enough on the hook but as far as rap hooks go she isn’t even in the same league as Rihanna. The beat on this track is a bit overbearing and doesn’t do anything for me either.

If you ask me the lone bright bright spot in the rest of the album is “The Show Goes On” which is a song he released as a single months ago. It’s not exactly what I’d expect from Lupe but I still really enjoy it – it has a really obvious Modest Mouse sample which is perfectly fine with me since Modest Mouse is awesome.  Before I ultimately scrapped my “best hip-hop songs of 2010” article I put this song in the top 10. I really like it.

Unfortunately the rest of the album doesn’t sound like a Lupe Fiasco album at all. The trend in the mainstream recently has been to rap over generic electro beats and that’s enough to get you on the radio. Obviously Atlantic felt the same way since the rest of this album sounds like a lovechild between old Lupe Fiasco and current-day Black Eyed Peas. If anyone reading this knows me, they’ll know that me comparing anything to the Black Eyed Peas is not a positive comment. Some of the songs on this album are laughably bad even by pop rap standards (see “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now“). This is not the Lupe Fiasco I became a big fan of years ago.

So….yeah. Seven big hip-hop albums coming out this month and so far it looks like we’re 0 for 1. It’s a bit disappointing to wait for this album for four years and just get a generic label-influenced album.
Score: 3.5/10