Mac Minister – The Minister of Defense

Mac Minister - The Minister of DefenseSome rappers get by on charisma; Mac Minister is a perfect example of that. More game-spitter than actual emcee, he preaches a street level gospel that rallies against snitchin’, endorses hustlin’ and takes shots at fellow Baydestrian E-40.

Mac Minister won’t be brought up in discussions on quality emcees but if you dug his interludes on other artists’ records, odds are you’ll appreciate Minister of Defense.

It’s very much a regional thing, with guest appearances by Little Bruce, Too $hort, Mac Dre and Rappin’ 4-Tay. Preach!

Young Black Teenagers – Dead Enz Kidz Doin’ Lifetime Bidz

Young Black Teenagers - Dead Enz Kidz Doin’ Lifetime BidzTheir group name and the title to their sophomore album might have been suspect but don’t let appearances fool you, the Young Black Teenagers were a solid, credible rap act and Dead Enz Kidz contained some vintage early nineties hardcore hip-hop fueled by jazzy breaks, deft scratching and shouted gang choruses.

The production is top-notch throughout, courtesy of the Bomb Squad and Grandmaster Flash. Lyrically there aren’t many quotables to be found but the energy, chemistry between the group members and tongue twisting flows compensate the lack of intricate wordplay and rhyme schemes.

If the goal is to get the party started than Dead Enz Kidz will definitely do the job. You needn’t look any further than ‘Tap the Bottle’ to achieve that feat. Check it out.

RA the Rugged Man – Legends Never Die

RA the Rugged Man - Legends Never DieRA the Rugged Man’s skill as an emcee is without question, so is his status as an underground legend. Label drama kept him from claiming the emcee-crown in New York’s competitive underground scene. His unreleased but bootlegged debut Night of the Bloody Ape, work with Rawkus records, show stealing guest appearances and Die, Rugged Man, Die album made sure he was always a perennial contender.

Legends Never Die pulls it all together for RA. It’s a purist’s classic that emphasizes the hip-hop’s fundamentals: rhymes, flow, beats and even some beatboxing. Legends is mostly good times and jokes, braggadocious and tough but it’s when RA gets personal and opens about his late father the record that the album and the lyricist truly show their depth. Check the crackle in his voice when he utters the words “I love you, daddy” on ‘Daddy’s Halo’ and tell me that’s not genuine emotion.

With a guest list full of underground favorites and a dedicated focus on those things that make rap music the coolest thing since Billy Dee Williams, Legends is a must-have album. It’s an all-time classic and a testament that the industry can’t keep a good emcee down.

Geto Boys – Till Death do us part

Geto Boys - Till Death do us partA great Geto Boys album in all regards, maybe even in contention for the title of best overall GB’s album, Till Death’s only drawback lies in the absence of original member and trash talker extraordinaire Willie D. His replacement, Big Mike, isn’t fazed and swings for the fences throughout the album, upping the lyrical ante along the way.

From behind the boards, producer NO Joe gives the Fifth Ward posse a more fully developed sound to work with. Deep southern funk and soul runs through Till Death. Since the rhymes and beats are on equal footing this time round, the Geto Boys sound less exploitative than before. Don’t let first impressions fool you; there is still ample room for the expected serial killer scenarios and sexual perversions. Only this time they’re matched by a unified sound and more accomplished musicality.

Most will prefer the raw shock-rap of Grip it! On that other level or We can’t be stopped since those records present the Houston squad in their most brash and abrasive form. Till Death do us part was a logical progression from that template and heavily influenced future southern greats like UGK and Eightball & MJG.

Prime Minister Pete Nice & Daddy Rich – Dust to Dust

Prime Minister Pete Nice & Daddy Rich - Dust to DustUnjustly relegated to a mere footnote in the story that is the rise and fall of 3rd Bass, Pete Nice & Daddy Rich’s Dust to Dust was actually a forebearer of things to come. The album was laced with early productions by the legendary Beatnuts and sported guest appearances from Kurious and Cage, the latter actually making his debut on ‘Rich,bring ‘em back’.

The album filters the blunted hip-hop of Cypress Hill’s self-titled debut through a New York aesthetic, matching booming basslines with plenty of vocal samples and superb turntable wizardry by DJ Daddy Rich, the often overlooked 3rd Bass member who shines throughout Dust to Dust.

It’s a damn shame Pete & Rich called it quits after this one, a record that’s all killer and no filler. If murky, grimy beats and true swagger on the mic are your thing, get with the Prime Minister & Daddy Rich.

RiFF RaFF – Birth of an Icon – 5.6/10

RiFF RaFF - Birth of an IconThere are two different sides to RiFF RaFF aka. Jody Highroller.  On the one hand the former G’s to Gents contestant is that guy sporting MTV, BET and Bart Simpson tattoos, along with a jewelry selection that could make Ghostface shake his head in disbelief, whose look inspired James Franco’s character in the movie Spring Breakers and is part of a rap collective called Three Loco, along with comedians Andy Milonakis and Simon Rex.  On the flipside he’s well connected, able to count on producers Harry Fraud, Dame Grease and Diplo amongst his beat suppliers and having collaborated with respected rappers like Action Bronson, Meyhem Lauren, A$AP Rocky and Earl Sweatshirt.  Somewhere in his past there’s also an alleged affiliation with Swishahouse head honcho OG Ron C.

It’s tough to tell if he’s a new version of Ali G that the world hasn’t quite caught on to yet or if he really means it, maaan.

Either way, he does have an undeniable work ethic, having shot and released an insane amount of videos accompanying his prolific musical output.  Those videos are a big part of the hype RiFF RaFF has been able to generate.  They’re hilarious parodies (intentional or not) of southern rap subculture, memorable for their outlandishness and overall weirdness.

The problem is that once you disconnect the music from the visuals, a lot of entertainment value is lost in the process.  That’s a feeling you can’t quite shake when listening to the Birth of an Icon mixtape, which serves as the perfect introduction to the Jody Highroller universe.  At the same time the music does hold up better than you’d expect considering RiFF RaFF works better as a comedic character than as a mere recording artist.  Dude isn’t a lyrical marvel by any stretch of the imagination but when paired with the right talent behind the boards the results are satisfying enough to warrant a listen away from your computer screen.  The beats and hooks are catchy, in that deliberately candy coated sunshine kind of way, and you can always count on Highroller for some ridiculous one-liners to be delivered in earnestness.  There are plenty of them throughout the 25 tracks that make up this tape.  Some prime examples include: “ice on my fingers/looks like I slapboxed a penguin” (Deion Sandals) or “Shook dice with Larry Bird down in Barcelona!” (Larry Bird).  The undeniable odd couple vibe transmitting from the collabo with Chief Keef might actually be sufficient motivation to check out this record.


It’s tough to tell what the future will hold for RiFF RaFF, it could go both ways.  At his worst he’s a continuation of LMFAO’s brand of grating party-rap.  At his best he’s a guy with an ear for a cool beat that will get stuck in your head for days on end, never trying to overshadow his more skilled cohorts on a track.  The route taken will probably depend on whether or not he manages to keep working with respected producers and emcees who are grounded firmly in rap’s vibrant underground scene or if some major label decides to seriously cash in on his pop potential and pairs him with a supporting cast that completely disconnects him his hop-hop roots.  If that happens you’ll be glad to revisit his current output so you might as well enjoy it now.

Big Daddy Kane – Prince of Darkness – 8.7/10

Big Daddy Kane - Prince of DarknessDepending on which rap congregation you belong to the order might vary but in the often discussed, rarely agreed upon, topic of which emcee is the best to ever rock the mic there is an undisputed holy trinity everyone worships: Rakim, Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane.  A strong case can be made for bestowing the title of ‘GOAT’ upon Kane.  Consider the evidence: several classic albums and songs to his name, an unparalleled flow by which all others shall be judged, the originator and master of the punchline simile and a live reputation that has held up throughout the decades.

Kane was the superstar on a label, Cold Chillin’ Records, packed with future legends like Masta Ace, Biz Markie and MC Shan (don’t forget the Kool Genius of Rap was also creating his seminal masterpieces with DJ Polo at Cold Chillin’).  His first two albums, Long Live the Kane and It’s a Big Daddy Thing, were giant leaps in hip-hop evolution but when Taste of Chocolate came out in 1990 cracks seemed to appear in what until that point had appeared to be an invincible armor.  First there was the Barry White duet, All of me, a corny love ballad that had nothing going for it other than the fact that Kane had enough pull and respect to procure the presence of the original overweight lover on his album.  Secondly there was the lackluster dance jam Keep ‘em on the Floor, an anemic pop-rap number that shouldn’t have made the album.  For a rapper who seemed to be untouchable those two missteps were enough to raise questions on whether or not King Asiatic Nobody’s Equal was slipping.

That kind of talk would only increase with Kane’s follow-up record, Prince of Darkness, unjustly dismissed at the time as a sell-out record.  Kane’s production was heavily influenced by Teddy Riley’s New Jack Swing (The lover in you and Groove with it for instance) and a lot of time was spent wooing the ladies (the title track and T.L.C.).  Doing so by complimenting the fairer sex instead of labeling them bitches and hoes has always been somewhat of a rap faux pas and gave a lot of folks the idea that Kane had gone soft.  It also didn’t help that smack dab in the middle of the album rested I’m not ashamed, another stretched out spoken word love balled but this time with no Barry White in sight.

Prince of Darkness does have it’s moments through, enough to actually suggest that it might just be Kane’s most underrated album.  Perhaps even one of the most underrated records of the nineties.  As radio friendly has some of the production might have been, there were an ample amount of tracks that showed that BDK was still a beast on the microphone very few could hang with.  He absolutely murders Git Bizzy, Death Sentence and Float, flows the hell out of Ooh, Aah, Nah-Nah-Nah (a track much doper than it’s title would suggest) and Get Down, and gives naysayers the finger on Troubled Man.  On top of that the record also features one of rap’s greatest posse cuts, Come On Down, where Q-Tip and a Dungeon Dragon-era Busta Rhymes join in on the proceedings, and the smooth trade-off between Kane and his brother Little Daddy Shane as they go back and forth on Brother, Brother.

Prince of Darkness was ahead of it’s time, a couple of years later rappers like Biggie Smalls and Big Punisher would make their mark following the formula Kane presented on his fourth album, mixing radio-friendly tracks with cuts designed for the streets and blurring the line between the two.   For Kane it spelled the end of his hip-hop supremacy though.  On 1993’s Looks like a job for…he would return completely to his tried and tested battle rap aesthetic, appearing on the cover in a hoodie instead of a three-piece suit, but unable to reconnect with his audience.

For anyone who can appreciate skill, the album is definitely worth seeking out.  It might be flawed but it’s strengths outweigh it’s weaknesses and it’s just begging to be rediscovered.

Shyne – Gangland – 8.3/10

Shyne - Gangland MixtapeWhat landed Jamal Barrow in jail could easily have been another ‘when keeping if real goes wrong’ sketch on the Chappelle’s Show. Everybody knows the backstory. No need to dwell on it too much: young kid gets thrust into the limelight and has to run with the ball after the untimely passing of the late great Christopher Wallace. He’s the biggest star on arguably the biggest hip-hop label at the time, Bad Boy Records, with the best in-house production team in the industry. How could this possibly go wrong? One nightclub shooting later, the next big thing ends up doing a ten year bid. Take that, take that.

It seemed that his legacy would be confined to two solid and highly underrated albums, his self-titled debut and ‘Godfather buried alive’. And his life could be summed up with a Bill Duke line from Menace II Society: “you know you done fucked up, right?”

Against all odds, all the drama ends up seeming as a mere prelude to Shyne’s actual recording career. After the jail time, converting to Judaism while incarcerated and getting deported to Belize upon release, Shyne aka Moses Levi releases the Gangland mixtape. Truth be told my expectations weren’t high for this one since he’d been deprived of The Hitmen’s production genius and at first glance didn’t sound like the nimble 21 year old rapper that exploded on the scene more than a decade ago. Gangland is a monster of a record through, to the point you actually feel like you’re doing it a disservice calling it a mere mixtape. Shyne comes across as the last real rapper alive of the course of the album’s 18 tracks and as a refreshing alternative to rap’s current batch of manufactured drug Kingpins, personified by the omnipresent Rick Ross.

Shyne’s fluidity on the mic has been replaced by a slower, hoarse flow and he’s trying to come to terms with the fact that he’s lost nearly ten years of his life. As such Gangland might not be a demonstration of skill, dude’s lost a step over the course of the last decade from a mere technical standpoint, but it does make for an utterly compelling record as a more contemplative Shyne emerged after all the trials and tribulations. At times he sounds bitter, other moments remorseful but always brutally honest. There’s no glorification of crime or his past actions. There are no excuses being made, shit happens. Gangland is a headphone masterpiece, one of those instances where a rapper’s words carry so much weight that they transcend nearly all of his limitations as an artist. Don’t get it twisted, Shyne is still a gifted rapper and gets to ride some gritty and bleak soundscapes as he takes you with him through his personal purgatory. There’s none of the gloss of his debut album and only a few nods to current trends, with some Lex Luger style drum programming and synths thrown in the mix. For the most part it’s that vintage boom-bap, Nuevo York aesthetic that’ll keep your head bopping throughout.

He’ll probably never be a household name again but if this tape is any indication he’s going to end up being one of rap’s brightest stars, on his own terms. The King of New York is back.

Recommended: You’re welcome, Meyer Lansky, King Judah, King David


Necro – The Murder Murder Kill Kill Double EP – 7.6/10

Necro - The Murder Murder Kill Kill Double EPHard to admit sometimes but rap fans often are a conservative bunch. For all the ranting and raving against commercialized hip-hop, they don’t want an artist to rock the boat too hard and there are limits to how hardcore things should get. That pretty much sums up why Necro is condemned to cult status, which in the natural order of things goes with the territory when your whole steez is built around exploitation. But to pigeonhole Ron Braunstein as a one trick pony doesn’t do the man and his undeniable talent, both in the booth and behind the boards, justice. The initiated already know that the self-proclaimed Sexorcist is part of a lineage of rugged East Coast emcees like Kool G Rap, Tragedy Khadafi, Akinyele and Mobb Deep.

Enter the Murder Murder Kill Kill Double EP, somewhat of a stop-gap release and at the same time a defiant fuck you to all the critics that have labeled him one-dimensional his entire career. First thing you notice is the amazing album artwork, a nod to seventies horror flicks with a zombie like creature rocking a necklace made out of human heads, holding a bloody butcher knife in one hand and another decapitated head in the other.

The actual album is made up out of five sides: Thug Shit, Death Rap, Jewish Gangsters, Tabloid/Comedy/Random and The Sexorcist. Necro murder murder kill kills the 15 songs contained within, no matter what the subject matter is. The double EP offers a couple of sneak previews of upcoming collaborations. First with the legendary Kool G Rap, ‘The System’, and then Mr. Hyde, the track ‘GORE!’ which builds anticipation for their Gruesome Twosome project as they trade sadistic verses on the cut.

The production is vintage Necro, gritty basslines and eerie piano loops pop up throughout the proceedings. On the Jewish Gangsters side, perhaps the best part of the album, he revisits the Black Helicopters sound with great success. The only downside is that these songs, like most of the tracks on the album are too damn short considering how dope they are. ‘Tough Jew’ and ‘Rabbi Holding Guns’ are both one verse and that’s it. Even the aforementioned ‘The System’ doesn’t go beyond two verses. It makes you hope these songs won’t be abandoned and will appear in a more fully developed form on future Psycho+logical Records releases.

At the end of the day this double EP fulfills it’s purpose as it keeps the momentum from the outstanding DIE! album going while it serves as an appetizer for great things to come. In that regard in seems kind of unfair to fault the album for being a bit slight on songs, verses and polish. It also illustrates that after all these years Necro hasn’t run out of steam and has enough ideas in his warped mind for more than a few new full length LP’s down the line. This record could already have been that next great album. The concept was in place along with the beats and rhymes but because of it’s short length it ends up being one hell of a preview. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait too long for that G Rap & Necro Godfathers collabo.

Recommended: The System, GORE!, Tough Jew, For The Streets, Sharon’s Fetus


Insane Clown Posse – The Tempest – 7.1/10

Insane Clown Posse - The TempestYes, this is Insane Clown Posse, the counterargument to every point you ever tried making to someone about the artistic merits of rap music and it being based around intricate wordplay and rhyme schemes. They’re most likely rap music’s biggest guilty pleasure this side of Vanilla Ice. While we’re at it, let’s admit we all dig ‘Ice Ice Baby’ and that you simply can’t front on that song, okay? Good.

Now as far as guilty pleasures go ICP are a riot. If you’re not into frat boy, or better yet juvenile humor you’ll never be able to stomach their brand of music and you probably haven’t noticed that they’ve become better at rapping over the years. At least Violent J has but Shaggy 2 Dope knows his role and plays it to perfection.

The Tempest, released in 2007, is in my opinion the most fun album they’ve made in their entire career and the best pure pop-rap album in a minute. Make no mistake about it, The Tempest is ICP turning into a Kid ’n Play for the new millennium, with serial killer aspirations, and it’s a blast kickstepping your way through this one.

Producer Mike E. Clark is largely responsible for the record turning out as good as it did. It’s his work behind the boards that truly makes the record the rollercoaster ride to which the album title refers. Clark knows that you can never overdue old school scratching on the turntables and that dropping some meaty guitar bits in the mix just adds to the overall flavor. Leave some rooms for catchy hooks and sing-along choruses

With the beats behind them the clowns can do what they do best: entertain. Their approach on the mic might be basic but they never set out to be Aesop Rock or Royce da 5’9”, they just want to talk about parties, girls and killing sprees. It’s when they venture into more serious territory that their limitations become obvious. Luckily that doesn’t happen too often on The Tempest. At times they tend to overplay the poppy hooks card but there’s a always a dirty joke lurking just around the corner when that happens.

If you’re looking for a fun record that’s good for some laughs and takes you back to the glory days of the Fat Boys and Young MC, in spirit at least, The Tempest is well worth spending an hour with.

Recommended: The Party, Bitch I lied, Mexico City, If I was a serial killer