Elcamino – “Martyr's Prayer” review

This is the brand new EP from Buffalo, New York emcee Elcamino. First time I listened to him was in November 2017 when he dropped his self-titled EP with Griselda Records. This was followed up by his Walking on Water mixtape in the summer of 2018 & last year alone, he dropped 2 studio albums & a few EPs. However to ring in the new year, he’s dropping off the 38 Spesh-produced Martyr’s Prayer.

After the titular intro, the first song “Legal Money” shows off his riches over a spooky instrumental whereas “Flowers” finds Camino aspiring to be respected while he’s alive over a calming beat. The track “Street Signs” talks about how he would’ve died for his block over a boom bap beat & after the “Martyr’s Speech” skit, the song “Young Lordz” talks about coming a long way from the hood over a blissful boom bap beat. The track “Get Hi Too” is a short yet effective stoner anthem with a mellow instrumental & before the outro, the final song “2K20” with Che Noir sees the 2 flexing over an impeccable BADBADNOTGOOD sample.

Compared to Elcamino’s last 2 projects that he dropped this past fall, this is a big step-up. I feel like it could’ve been more fleshed out since every single cut is under 3 minutes but nonetheless, Spesh cooks up some of his best production & the pen-game has improved also. Looking forward to see what else he does this year.

Score: 4/5

Royce da 5’9” – “The Allegory” review

Royce da 5’9” is a Detroit veteran that most are familiar with for being 1/2 of Bad Meets Ǝvil with local sensation Eminem. However his mark as one of the city’s illest lyricists has already been made with releases such as Death is Certain, Street Hop, Success is Certain, Layers & even Royce’s last album Book of Ryan. Also can’t forget to mention his work with longtime collaborator DJ Premier as the MC/producer duo PRhyme or with the now defunct quartet of all-star wordsmiths that was once Slaughterhouse. But with Black History Month almost over, Nickel is celebrating with The Allegory.

Things kick off with “Mr. Grace”, where Royce delivers some wisdom & I love how the instrumental constantly switches from horn to string samples throughout. The next song “Dope Man” with Emanny sees the 2 discussing how drug dealers are the kings of the streets over an infectious instrumental while the track “I Don’t Age” talks about how dope he still is over a boom bap beat with the lead riff switching off between a bass-line & a piano sample. The song “Pendulum” is laced with battle bars backed with a solemn boom bap beat while the track “I Play Forever” with Grafh sees the 2 talking about falling in love with the street life over some horns.

After the “Ice Cream” interlude, the song “On the Block” sees PRhyme getting together to discuss hustling over a mesmerizing instrumental & the Oswin Benjamin verse really took me by surprise. After the “Generation is Broken” interlude, the song “Overcomer” with Westside Gunn is about how the 2 rose above their shortcomings over a prominent vocal sample & I definitely can’t forget to mention Royce’s disses towards former collaborator/Shady Records artist Yelawolf not too long after his verse starts. Is he really a “vulture pundit” in my eyes? No, not at all. That being said, I do understand Royce’s point of view on the whole thing. After the “Mrs. Grace” interlude, the song “Thou Shall” with Kid Vishisis essentially both of the Montgomery brothers talking about their accomplishments over a spooky instrumental.

The track “FUBU” with Conway the Machine sees the 2 challenging anyone who opposes them over a demented instrumental & after the “A Black Man’s Favorite Shoe” skit, the song “Upside Down” with Benny the Butcher finds both wordsmiths getting violent over a cavernous boom bap beat. After the “Perspective” skit, the track “Tricked” with KXNG CROOKED is pretty much both MCs cleverly breaking down the idea of deception over a tense instrumental. After the “Black People in America”, the song “Black Savage” is empowering anthem towards African Americans with both dEnAuN & 6 July helping Royce heavily sample the afro-rock band of the same name. The bars that CyHi the Prynce & T.I. both bring to the table are dope, but White Gold’s verse was kinda pointlessly short to me.

The track “Rhinestone Doo Rag” despite being short is about how the next generation is on those listening over a soothing instrumental while the song “Young World” with G Perico & Vince Staples sees the 3 sending an important message to the youth over a funky instrumental. The penultimate track “My People Free” has a respectable concept, but it seems like more of an Ashley Morrell song to as she dominates a bulk of it & Royce makes very little appearance on it himself. Then there’s the closer “Hero”, where Royce pays tribute to his father over an instrumental that’s sweet to the ear.

The album isn’t perfect, but it’s still a fantastic listen. A couple of the features were pretty weak & the interludes are pretty annoying but lyrically, this is definitely Royce’s most conscious effort to date. And for him to start getting behind the boards & self-produce damn near the whole thing, he does a pretty good job at it.

Score: 4/5

Big Twins – "Queensbridge" review

This is the brand new EP from New York emcee Big Twins. Best known for being a member of the Infamous Mobb, it wouldn’t be until the late 2000s that he would branch out solo & has released 4 studio albums to date. However, he is now teaming up with California producer DirtyDiggs for Queensbridge.

It all starts with “No Hesitation”, where Twins raps about how he isn’t afraid to shoot anyone over an organ. The next song “Infamous Chain” with Godfather Pt. III & the Durag Dynasty sees the East Coast/West Coast titans painting vivid images of the street life over a while the track “Do It Big, Do It Dirty” gets more personal over jazzy boom bap instrumental. The song “Multi Million Art Collection” with Planet Asia & Willie the Kid sees the 3 talking about donning over a soulful beat while the penultimate track “Smells Like Blood” with Asia & Hus Kingpin speaks on death over a dark piano instrumental. Then there’s the closer “Cash In”, which is about both parties trying to get paid over an intimidating instrumental.

For an EP, this is honestly one of Big Twins’ best releases yet. His lyricism has continuously stepped-up over time & DirtyDiggs reminds us that he’s one of the dopest West Coast producers that the underground has to offer. Love to see them collaborate with each other more in the future.

Score: 4/5

Vinnie Paz – “as above so below” review

Vinnie Paz is a underground veteran from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania known for being the MC of Jedi Mind Tricks & the leader of the Army of the Pharaohs collective. He put out his first 2 solo albums Season of the Assassin & God of the Serengeti in 2010 & 2012 respectively, but returned in 2016 with The Cornerstone of the Corner Store. Last time we heard from him solo-wise was with The Pain Collector in 2018 & with Valentine’s Day arriving, he’s back with his 5th full-length album.

It all starts with “Crime Wave Tehran”, where Pazzy talks about shooting someone over a minimalist yet intimidating instrumental from Giallo Point. The next song “Scorched Earth” with Estee Nack & Jay Royale sees the 3 spitting some vicious mobster-style lyricism over a Stu Bangas beat with some prominently harmonious vocals while the track “I’m the Chaos” reminds us of Paz’s place in this culture over a boom bap/rock fusion from Vic Grimes. The song “Mabuhay Gardens” talks about how nothing other than death is guaranteed over a somber beat while “The Conjuring” compares himself to that of a magician over a Bronze Nazareth beat with a relaying vocal sample.

“The Black Hand” with Demoz sees the 2 talking about murder over a cavernous beat from C-Lance supplied with a hook delivered in this weird faux-Jamaican patois while the song “Mock Up on Mu” sends a message to his competition over a suspenseful instrumental. The track “Ankle Bracelets” talks about wanting to be alone over a calming beat & a stellar hook with Queen Herawin while “The Conpleat Witch” with Nowaah the Flood finds both MCs painting some vivid street imagery over a boom bap beat with some creepy keyboards.

The song “Hannibal” is laced with gun talk over a boom ball beat with a luxurious pianos lead while the track “Silician Bull” compares himself to just that over an ominous beat. The song “Cero Miedo” gets confrontational over an eerie beat. The song “Spilled Milk” is a tear-jerking tribute to his father with a piano instrumental to enhance the emotion while the track “Vahid Moradi” with Rigz sees the 2 talking about staring into Satan’s eyes over some strings.

The song “I’ll Buy All the Uranium You’ve Got” talks about being strapped over a boom bap beat with a prominent vocal sample while the song while the track “Doomsday Machine” with Demoz & Vast Aire sees the 3 talking about how ruthless they are over an instrumental with a beautifully dark atmosphere to it. The song “Serve the Creator” with Recognize Ali sees the 2 talking about Allah over a soul sample & some horns then the closer “The Gone-Away World” gets conscious over a killer rock instrumental Vinnie made himself with co-production from Scott Stallone.

Paz’s discography has always been known for being consistently hardbody & this is no exception. A couple of the features could’ve been better to me personally, but his lyricism has gotten sharper over time & the production is as equally gritty.

Score: 4/5

$uicideboy$ – “STOP STARING AT THE SHADOWS” review

This is the 9th mixtape from New Orleans hip hop duo $uicideboy$. Who’ve been releasing a plethora of EPs & mixtapes since 2013, but it wasn’t until 2018 that they made their full-length debut with I WANNA DIE IN NEW ORLEANS. Last time we heard from them was last May with the Travis Barker produced Live Fast Die Whenever EP & now 9 months later, they’re hitting fans with Stop Staring at the Shadows.

The opener “All Dogs Go to Heaven” finds the duo getting bloodthirsty over a bass trap beat with some Atari-esque synths & then the next song “I Wanna Be Romanticized” talks about being on the verge of killing themselves over a moody beat. The track “One Last Look of the Damage” talks about making it to 30 over a cloudy beat while the song “[whispers indistinctly]” talks about death over a woozy beat. The track “MEGA ZEPH” gets apocalyptic over an frightening trap beat while the song “Putrid Pride” speaks on time moving fast over a dreary beat.

The track “That Just Isn’t Empirically” talks about losing their minds over a bleak instrumental while the song “What the Fuck is Happening?” thematically picks up where the previous joint left off over an abrasive beat. The track “Bizarro” is a horrifically delivered drug anthem backed with an intoxicating beat while the song “Scope Set” talks about murder over some sirens & loud bass. The penultimate track “Fuck Your Culture” is a dedication to 2 of their late homies that appear on the refrain over a spooky instrumental then the closer “…& to Those I Love, Thanks for Sticking Around” reads off as a suicide note backed with a cumbersome instrumental.

While it’s not a cut above Eternal Grey & I WANNA DIE IN NEW ORLEANS as hyped up to be, this is still a solid tape from Ruby da Cherry & $crim. It’s a little too short running at only 26 minutes but both of them still go hard in terms of delivery, lyrics & their Three 6 Mafia-influenced sound.

Score: 3.5/5

Denzel Curry – “UNLOCKED” review

This is the new surprise EP from Carol City’s very own Denzel Curry. A man that got his start as a member of the Raider Klan, founded by SpaceGhostPurrp. His 2013 debut Nostalgic 64 was nice, but the next 2 albums he would put out Imperial & TA13OO would show his talents much more clearer. Last time we heard from Zel was this past spring with ZUU & not even 9 months later, he’s teaming up with Kenny Beats for UNLOCKED.

After the predominant spoken word intro “Track 01”, the EP’s first actual song “Take_it_Back_v2” finds Denzel lashing out & getting wreckless over a dystopian instrumental. The track “Lay_Up.m4a” talks about fighting haters over a spacious beat while the song “Pyro (leak 2019)” speaks on being on a God-level over a woozy. The track “DIET_” is pretty much Zel bragging over a trunk-knocking beat while the song “So Incredible.pkg” talks about how great he is. After the “Track 07” interlude, the closer “Cosmic.m4a” drops knowledge to the phonies tryna bite him over a hypnotic instrumental.

Didn’t think Denzel would drop new music this quickly but nonetheless, I’m very pleased with the outcome of UNLOCKED. The concept is a lot more interesting than ZUU as much as I enjoyed that previous album, Kenny reminds us that he’s one of the best producers out right now & Denzel continues his reign as the King of the Florida hip hop scene.

Score: 4/5

Boldy James – “The Price of Tea in China” review

This is the long-awaited sophomore album from Detroit emcee Boldy James. A man who rose to fame with his Alchemist produced 2013 debut M.1.C.S. (My 1st Chemistry Set). This resulted in a contract with Nas’ independent label Mass Appeal Records, but unfortunately Boldy got locked up for a while. He eventually made his comeback a few years ago with his House of Blues mixtape & now after reuniting with the Uncle Al on his Boldface EP a couple months ago, they’re back again with The Price of Tea in China.

The album kicks off with “Carruth”, where Boldy reminisces on his past over some piano chords & a chilling vocal sample in the background. The next song “Giant Slide” gets mafiosio over a boom bap beat laced with these eerie whistling noises while the track “Surf & Turf” with Vince Staples sees the 2 talking about being overlords backed by this intoxicating instrumental. The song “Run-Ins” talks about being chased by the cops over a repetitive vocal sample that fits in flawlessly, but then it switches into a grimy ass beat leading into the track “Scrape the Bowl” with Benny the Butcher as the 2 talk about smuggling coke to their respective hometowns. The song “Pinto” talks about being rich from the drug game over a beat with these luscious string sections while the track “Slow Roll” finds Boldy flexing over an intimidating instrumental.

The song “S.N.O.R.T.” essentially gets back on the coke tip alongside Freddie Gibbs over a gritty beat then the track “Grey October” with Evidence sees the 2 pouring their hearts out over a psychedelic instrumental. The song “Mustard” has a funereal feel to it that I really like despite being way too short while the penultimate track “Speed Demon” talks about criminal activity over a boom bap beat with some nice horn samples. Then there’s the closer “Phone Bill”, which is about going from broke to rich over a calming beat.

For a comeback album, it’s damn near perfect to the point where it almost feels like Boldy never left. His pen game is still razor sharp as it was on the debut & Alchemist continues to provide him with brilliant musical soundscapes that help bring his bars to life.

Score: 4.5/5

Valid – “Plum Brandy” review

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This is the brand new EP from Detroit emcee Valid, who made his solo debut in 2015 with Reach High. The album was followed up just last year with the man’s most personal work to date Mihajlo & now 9 months later, he’s back on the scene with Plum Brandy.

The opener “January 8th” itself is a cool nod to Serbian Christmas & I really like the mellow boom bap production on here as well. The next song “Pops” is a touching dedication to Mihajlo’s father over a soulful instrumental while the track “Foreign Forever” with Boldy James sees the 2 talking about their ancestry over some gorgeous strings. The song “ULUV’ gets more on the romantic side of things over a funky instrumental while the penultimate track “Take Me Down” continues to get flirtatious over intoxicating instrumental. The EP then finishes with “Paper” where Valid gets with Smoke Mardeljano & Struka to talk about money over a woozy instrumental.

This is a pretty interesting release in Mihajlo’s catalog. For him to showcase his Serbian roots from the samples to the production choices & even most of the features is a pretty cool move on his part & I think he did a pretty good job at it.

Score: 3.5/5

Lil Wayne – “Funeral” review

This is the long-awaited 13th full-length album from New Orleans veteran Lil Wayne. Who signed to Cash Money Records at the age of 9; becoming 1/2 of The B.G.’z, 1/4 of the Hot Boy$ & 1/6 of the Cash Money Millionaires. His first 3 solo albums Tha Block is HotLights Out & 500 Degreez were average at best but we then found him improving in the mid 2000’s with Tha CarterTha Carter IIDedicationDedication 2Da Drought 3 & my personal favorite Tha Carter III. He then started his own label Young Money Entertainment & followed his magnum opus up with a God awful “rock” album Rebirth along with the mediocre I Am Not a Human Being. He was able to bounce back in 2011 with Tha Carter IV, but things looked rough once again with the horrendous I Am Not a Human Being II in 2013 & then being entangled in legal issues with Cash Money from 2014-2018. Wayne eventually broke free from Birdman & was able to release Tha Carter V in 2018 to celebrate his 36th birthday. But to end the first month of 2020, Weezy is coming back with Funeral.

The title track that kicks the album off is a proper introduction as Wayne makes numerous references to death over some strings, but then it transitions into a grimy trap beat. The next song “Mahogany” gets braggadocious over a soulful trap beat from Mannie Fresh while the track “Mama Mia” continues to flex over an abrasive beat. The song “I Do It” with Big Sean & Lil Baby sees the 3 describing their work ethics over a bland instrumental while the track “Dreams” talks about his fear of losing it all over an atmospheric instrumental.

The song “Stop Playin’ with Me” speaks for itself over a weary instrumental while the track “Clap for ‘Em” is an ass-shaking anthem with a Jahlil Beats instrumental that sounds vaguely similar to T.I.’s “Ball”, on which he was featured on. The song “Bing James” with Jay Rock sees the 2 showing off over an eerie instrumental as well as a 24-second tribute to the late Kobe Bryant at the start while the track “Not Me” talks about his haters over a somewhat-cloudy StreetRunner beat. The song “Trust Nobody” has a great message about backstabbers & the guitar instrumental is pretty, but Adam Levine’s hook is just ok.

The track “Know You Know” sees ColleGrove getting together to talk about this hoe over a keyboard-inflicted trap beat while the song “Wild Dogs” talks about how much of a savage he is over a luxurious instrumental. The track “Harden” talks about how he isn’t the perfect lover over a grand instrumental while the song “I Don’t Sleep” with Takeoff sees the 2 talks about their grind & I really like the woodwinds in the production.

The track “Sights & Silencers” is an awkward love ballad with The-Dream & a buttery Mike WiLL Made-It instrumental while the song “Ball Hard” with Lil Twist sees the 2 talking about their hustle over an ominous trap beat. The track “Bastard (Satan’s Kid)” reflects about his childhood over a cavernous beat while the song “Get Outta My Head” with the late XXXTENTACION sees the 2 talking about fighting their inner demons & the instrumental has this horror-esque feel that fits in pretty great. Although Wayne’s lyricism gets more annoyingly repetitive on “Piano Trap”, I do like how it lives up to the title as he’s delivering these bars over a trap beat that later switches into a piano instrumental.

The song “Line ‘Em Up” gets confrontational over a Murda Beatz instrumental with an organ & a sample that gets so played out once the joint ends whereas the track “Darkside” talks about going to war over a grim instrumental. The song “Never Mind” compares himself to that of a pimp over a mellow acoustic instrumental & while the penultimate track “T.O. (Terrell Owens)” talks about selling coke over this lifeless trap beat, the O.T. Genesis feature is the most awkward part about it easily. Then the album ends with “Wayne’s World”, where Weezy talks about partying hard over a rubbery instrumental.

I thought Lil Wayne redeemed himself with Dedication 6 & Tha Carter V, but this was SUPER disappointing. He still has his passionate & witty moments on here, but it’s overloaded with filler & the production choices are pretty weak as well. If this is the way he’s going out, then I’d say it’s a mediocre one.

Score: 2/5

Russ – “Shake the Snow Globe” review

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Russ is a 26 year old rapper, producer & singer-songwriter from Secaucus, New Jersey who’s released a total of 11 mixtapes on SoundCloud from 2011 up to 2014. He wound up signing Columbia Records in 2016 & made his full-length debut last year with There’s Really a Wolf, quickly becoming one of hip hop’s most polarizing figures in recent memory. Primarily because of being a “fake activist” against drugs & then there’s his infamous 2016 interview with DJ Vlad the culture vulture where he literally said “we need to blame producers for all the wack music today”. His 2018 follow-up ZOO kinda caught my interest due to “The Flute Song”, but the end result of it being taken over by this annoyingly bitter demeanor. However, my morbid curiosity got the best of me for this new album based on the features & the production credits. Will he finally wow me? Let’s find out.

The opener “NEED A MINUTE” is actually ok as Russ talks about what he’s achieved so far over this mellow acoustic instrumental & while the following song “GUESS WHAT” has a vibrant instrumental from Boi-1da, the bragging on here is more egotistical than charming & the Rick Ross verse is pretty weak. “A LOT MORE” also produced by Boi-1da has a more woozier sound to it with Russ’ verses about having more to accomplish sounding completely genuine & while I can appreciate the uptempo beat on “CAN’T GO ON”, it’s theme about breaking up with this woman is melodramatic to me. The song “ASSHOLE” is a temper tantrum about why people don’t like him similar to that on ZOO backed with a redundant Bugus verse whereas the track “NIGHTTIME” is less of an interlude & more of a poorly-delivered relationship ballad. Then there’s the Kiana Ledé-duet “ALL TO YOU”, which is reminiscent to Machine Gun Kelly & Camila Cabello’s “Bad Things”.

The alcohol anthem “SHOTS” doesn’t have the invigorating delivery that I’d normally expect on songs like these despite the vibrant !llmind instrumental & despite the cloudy production on “PATIENCE”, it truly lives up to its title as it delivers more patience-testing relationship melodrama. Not only is “I THOUGHT YOU GOT ME” is about how this woman is unlike any other over a skeletal instrumental, but even Benny the Butcher’s verse on here isn’t all that good & this is coming from someone who’s been praising Griselda’s music for years. Devin the Dude easily has the best feature on the entire album on the song “FOOT ON THE GAS”, which is a decent tune about living life to the fullest. The acoustic/boom bap infused “MOMMA” is a tribute to Russ’ mother that sounds like it comes from the heart & despite the bouncy instrumental on the penultimate track “CIVIL WAR”, the whole comparison of a relationship to a civil war is just corny to me. Then it finishes with “BEST ON EARTH” with BIA, which is another “Bad Things” rip-off.

While it is titled Shake the Snow Globe, it’s not really rocking my world at all. There are aspects about this album that I enjoy more than previous efforts like how he brought some more outside producers to the table as well as more features, nothing about him continues to stick out to me. Especially as a performer & songwriter. I really don’t get how he rips on the current state of hip hop for being too materialistic when he‘s made gotten materialistic on cute himself in the past, including on this album. And while I‘m not against pop rap or love songs AT ALL, I just can’t imagine his take on it getting anyone in that mood.

Score: 1.5/5