Language Room: Things We Wish For Album Review

Language Room: Things We Wish For album art…this world is more than who we are as individuals. We are all in this room together and no matter what we believe in or love there is always going to be someone that does not feel the same way. We should not be so quick to anger that we miss what there is to gain from one another.

Can pop music have meaning, depth, substance? There are no small numbers of musicians who would answer yes. Among them is the Austin-based band Language Room. They conceived, composed and recorded their debut album “Things We Wish For” to explore meaning and emotion in the constant struggle to realize the newness of daily experience. The words above are part of the mission statement of the band printed on their website. When was the last time a band thought up and published a mission statement?

Despite what it may seem like, Language Room is not some kind of feel-good-world-beat-fusion group. Their debut album, which they self-categorize as alternative/indie is a mix of mellow musical textures built around lead-singer Todd Sapio’s airy tenor. In an often used but still appropriate label, this CD is good ‘chill music’, but far from being background music.

Most of the songs are mid to slow in tempo and the variety of music-scapes which back up the vocals are far more harmonious than jarring. In a refreshing turn away from much mainstream alternative, the vocals are the main focus: the lyrics are well thought out and clearly made to be understood, to tell a story or express personal experience. This does not exactly lend itself to dancing about wildly or to especially hooky, catchy and memorable choruses, but that does not seem to be the point. Unlike the lyrics-formerly-known-as-emo, although there is no shortage of frustration, exasperation and dismissal of authority, the words are not the garden variety which is so common. There are small twists which bring the songs to life and give them specific character whether it is introspective or commentary.

Musically, the instrumental subtleties of each song show that serious amounts of work were put into each and every track. The main foil of the album is the guitar, which alternates between acoustic and electric. Much of the guitar work is based on crystal clean minimalist patterns a la A Perfect Circle through which the vocal melody weaves. Best demonstrated by the track “Playing God”. On the acoustic side, “Taking Life All Wrong” is an example of the conflation of storytelling lyrics, subtle drums, bells and cello over bass and strum acoustic guitar.

Taken as a whole, what stands out about “Things We Wish For” is the attention to detail and craftsmanship. On the first listening, the melodies of each song are enticing. On the second time through it’s the lyrical sculpting that leaves an impression. The third time, the tasteful uses of the studio – doubled vocals, female voice, organ, bells and Dobro – spring to life. Language Room’s offering is a very serious effort by a conscious band to bring substance – both musical and lyrical – into pop music. It is worthy of equally serious consideration by those who like a helping of density in their ears.

3.5 stars (out of 5)

by Justin Patch

Track Listing:

1. Kitchen Table
2. Playing God
3. Playing God
4. Rules
5. Dear
6. It’s All Just…
7. This Tall
8. Pills For A Lie
9. Taking Life All Wrong
10. She Walks
11. The Way We Are
12. Lullabies
13. Elephant Song

50 Cent: Get Rich or Die Tryin’ Review

Perhaps one of the most anticipated rappers we’ve seen in years has stepped to the plate. He has been run through the hype machine, magazines, mixtapes, TRL, BET, ER and of course, studios. 50 Cent, born Curtis Jackson, has risen from the streets of Jamaica, Queens, and has bullet scars to prove it. While hustling the streets he ran across the now late Jam Master Jay who listened to 50’s dilemma about getting out of the street and Jay decided to give him a beat to let 50 write to, a week later 50 came back with a song (though grotesquely formatted) and Jay saw a spark of potential and decided to bring 50 onto his own label.

The two produced a few songs together, one of which (“How To Rob”) caused very many heads to turn as 50 Cent dissed almost everyone in the hip hop industry, and he managed to do it in a matter of three verses. After that Curtis drew in some long time friends from the street and formed his own posse G Unit, who quickly began dominating mixtapes in NYC. Mixtape rotation was high enough to reach the ears of megastar Marshall Mathers, who decided to have a sit down with Dre, 50 and 50’s manager Sha Money, soon after a deal was born leaving us with so much hype it begs to wonder if the hype can ever be succeeded by 50 Cent’s sophomore CD in the game, dropped through Shady/Aftermath Records, “Get Rich or Die Tryin'”.

Right from the get-go, that southern drawl kicks in and 50’s rhythmic voice is known through a rather simple song, “What Up Gangsta”. Simple lyrics never complex but yet it’s a nice beat and melodic hook. One of 50’s bosses, Eminem, appears on track two “Patiently Waiting”, the beat is slow, the hook once again is memorable and the obvious intent on the CD is aimed at only expressing whatever happens to come across the minds of the writers. Eminem kicks some ridiculous flow in verse 2 and 50 sums up the song with the first line of verse three, “you shouldn’t throw stones if you live in a glass house / and if you got a glass jaw you should watch your mouth”. “In da Club” is the first release as you may have already heard, it’s a certified jam from the beat and catchy hook.

Now after surviving being shot multiple times as well as being stabbed, it’s clear 50 is not liked by everyone and this is acknowledged on “Many Men (Wish Death)”. Curtis kicks some serious street lyrics here, the beat is hot, a definite hood banger, just like “High All the Time”. The latter drops a steady beat and an undeniable chorus with plenty of chants to keep you rewinding, the song stays dark and deadly, and some nice flow is inevitable, “if you love me, tell me you love me, don’t stare at me man / I[‘d] hate to be in the pen for clappin one of my fans”. “Heat” is pure street, 50 spews over a fire-laced beat. He spits about cocking guns and letting the lead fly, most of the time he does it in a semi-clever way, mostly made possible by his voice and style.

“If I Can’t” drops a stop’n’go beat, kind of like Mary’s “No Mo’ Drama” but on a much slower tempo, which makes sense since it was produced by Dr. Dre. Premise of the song is that if 50 can’t do it, then it can’t be done, very melodic and will be fresh every time it’s played. “Blood Hound” G Unit’s own Young Buck guest stars on “Blood Hound”, but he displays nothing of any note. The production is game-tight, the flow is predictable but we aren’t really listening to this to hear philosophy though, are we? Either way, it’s nice, but not as nice as “Back Down”, where $.50 takes it back to his basics and decides to call out a few people, but mainly Jeffrey Atkins, aka Ja Rule, in fact the whole ending of the song is dedicated to sparking jokes at Ja.

“P.I.M.P.” explores the pimp game, where 50 plays the part of extorting women for money, nice beat but tired flow. “Like My Style” picks the tempo up a little bit which mixes real nice with 50’s lazy speech. The chorus is forgettable, and the track says that Tony Yayo features, but it’s real minimal. “Poor Lil Rich” adds on another track to cushion the CD as a whole, it gives what is expected, good music and that ghetto vibe. Perhaps one of my favorite tracks is “21 Questions”, which brings in the master of thug-R&B (if there is such a thing), Nate Dogg himself. 50 is asking questions to his girl over a very smooth R&B beat, a smooth song doomed to make you want to hear it again with lines like: “we’re only humans girl we make mistakes / to make it up I do whatever it take / I love you like a fat kid loves cake / you know my style I say anything to make you smile”.

“Don’t Push Me” is very notable, the beat is hard, the lyrics match it. The lyricists are on the edge, and perhaps the best verse comes from G Unit’s Lloyd Banks outshining even Eminem who starts kind of weak but ends his verse on fire. “Gotta Make it to Heaven” is 50 speaking about his street life, from being in Intensive Care to killing haters (which he’s claimed to have done twice). The official CD stops here, the bonus tracks include “Wanksta”, “U Not Like Me” (which he spits “I don’t smile alot, cuz ain’t nothin pretty / got a purple heart for war and I ain’t ever left the city”) and “Life’s on the Line”, the latter two definitely contribute nicely.

What should you expect when you pick this up? Well, since it’s executive produced by Dr. Dre and Eminem, expect a lot of tight production, and since it is 50 Cent also expect a lot of violence and death and the general misuse of women. Expect a few witty lyrics, and sticky hooks. Don’t pick up the CD if you’re expecting something ground-breaking here, it is definitely not. What it definitely is, is a great style flowing over some hot beats and chanting some good choruses and spilling some street-life lyrics, reminiscent of so many other street-prophets. There are a few must-listens, such as Lloyd Banks’ flow on “Don’t Push Me”, and you should probably hear the bonus cut “Life’s on the Line” where 50 actually opens his mouth all the way to rhyme, as well as “21 Questions” & “Many Men (Wish Death). Overall, a quality product to feed the streets all over America a national hood-banger. 4 out of 5 stars.

Track Listing:
01. Intro
02. What Up Gangsta
03. Patiently Waiting (feat. Eminem)
04. Many Men (Wish Death)
05. In Da Club
06. High All the Time
07. Heat
08. If I Can’t
09. Blood Hound (feat. Young Buck of G Unit)
10. Back Down
11. P.I.M.P.
12. Like My Style (feat. Tony Yayo of G Unit)
13. Poor Lil Rich
14. 21 Questions (feat. Nate Dogg)
15. Don’t Push Me (feat. Lloyd Banks of G Unit & Eminem)
16. Gotta Make It to Heaven

4 out of 5

Boyz II Men: Full Circle Review

Who doesn’t remember Boyz II Men? They set a new standard for boy bands, they did it with class and style bringing their own flow of love. The Boyz managed to stay pretty consistent and peaked out on their second album “II” (which was outstanding to say the least), after that they mistakenly waited too long to put out another album and instead put out a Remix collection which was good, but untimely because their audience was beginning to forget about them. Well, several albums later we have their latest record “Full Circle”.

They begin the album with a really nice song “Relax Your Mind”, a very mood-setting song to groove to, full of harmonies that accompany a normal B2M song. Off to a great start, with a fantastic follow-up in “The Color of Love” which got minimal radio play. This is a very intimate song in a very non-sensual way, somewhat reminiscent of “A Song for Mama” (“Evolution” and “Soul Food” soundtrack). You can definitely sense that there was a lot of effort put forth on this track with the effective smooth transitions and various bridges alongside the beautiful harmonious background vocals.

Rob Jackson decided to step up next on “Ain’t A Thang Wrong”, basically another attempt at a club song. The only problem with this is that it’s way too difficult for them to be changing their image to allow fans to accept such a song from them. In other words, they’ve built their market solely on songs about love and a contrite heart, *not* on dance-floor songs so very few people are gonna want to hear this from their mouth, and in a sense they are hurting their credibility as passionate kindred-soul type musicians. Aside from that, the song is decent as it stands alone and Rob Jackson doesn’t necessarily help or hurt the track.

“Oh Well” brings us back to that traditional Boyz II Men song, and builds slowly and solidly which is almost certain to spark nostalgia in a grand way. A lot of strings and orchestral oriented music behind them makes this a beautiful song of longing. “Whatcha Need” pulls in a piano and trap set to call for a more K-Ci and Jojo presence mixed with B2M harmonies, which seemingly works but perhaps goes a little too long. “On The Road Again” ushers in a more urgent beat which includes a plethora of instruments, typical kick and snare mixed in with some very quick strings, and a little spanish guitar. Quite a nice rhythm and flow overall makes it a good addition.

The topic of the next track is quite obvious by the title “Makin’ Love”. If anyone recalls “50 Candles” off of their second album, this is very reminiscent of it through the beat, that is to say that it’s a slow spacey beat for a good interlude. “Roll Wit Me” is a very militant beat with some electronic add-ons, and is about picking up a girl. This should be a new and refreshing song, but it only manages to be monotonous and dull. “Right On Time” is a soul-oriented track, slow, steady paced and aimed at sensuality. Somehow they manage to slip in and out of the soul towards the end, there was also a mention of adultery in there, but overall not that bad of a song.

“Howz About It” is nothing new or noteworthy, and seemingly slips in and out of notice making you itch to scratch the Forward button. Perhaps it is the use of average instruments and vocal pitches and techniques that make this unbearable. “That’s Why I Love You” slows the pace down a small notch, and has a soothing piano but unfortunately they don’t utilize it nearly enough putting it as a more supportive instrument instead of a front and center role. While this is by no means a stand out track, it isn’t all bad either, instead it’s more of a song to listen to and think of your loved one.

“I’m OK, You’re OK” is more filler for the CD. It encompasses the standard kick/snare combination, and does not look to water you with anything new or worthy of attention. However, toward the end there is a nice little change in the bridge, but not nearly enough to save the monotony of the song. “Luv N U” isn’t exactly fulfilling or answering the cure for the anxiousness of hearing something outstanding or semi-loveable. It’s a slow love song and isn’t entirely bad, but it doesn’t build to anything that holds your attention making you want to hear it a few more times. The ending is also kind of unnerving, adding a little too much with the inclusion of Michael McCary’s sounds of lovemaking. “I’ll Show You” is a pretty smart way to end the CD, the beat is nothing new but the vocal sounds are more than two notes. A song of proposal, it’s a decent song between the ideal situation of lasting love but is this the same woman who is cheated on earlier in “Right On Time”? Hmmmmm.

Now I’m a BIG Boyz II Men fan, they rank on my top 3 favorite list. However, they seem to be trying too much and at the same time trying to little. What do I mean by that? They try too hard to broaden their audience with songs that wouldn’t even appeal to them if they were into their music in the first place, then when they make their marquis love songs they don’t always seem to focus on making the song good and refreshing as opposed to sticking to a formula of non-original lyrical content/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus/chorus. I want nothing more than to say that this album is fully worthy of a store purchase, but outside of tracks 1,2 and 4, I can’t say that any of them are worth their weight in gold. Now if you’re a huge Boyz II Men fan, you may have already bought this album expecting something along the lines of “Evolution”, sorry to disappoint you. It would seem that Boyz are attempting II become Men and have backslid a little bit, I give this 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Track Listing:

1. Relax Your Mind ft. Faith Evans
02. The Color of Love
03. Ain’t A Thang Wrong ft. Rob Jackson
04. Oh Well
05. Whatcha Need
06. On The Road Again
07. Makin’ Love
08. Roll Wit Me
09. Right On Time
10. Howz About It
11. That’s Why I Love You
12. I’m OK, You’re OK
13. Luv N U
14. I’ll Show You

2.5 out of 5

Common: Electric Circus Review

With a name like Common, one would perhaps expect some music of the regular sort. Yet, as average as the name comes across, Common is nothing short of irregular. Hailing from Chicago, Illinois, born Lonnie Rashied Lynn, Common made his solo debut in March of 2000 with “Like Water for Chocolate” gaining street praise and rave reviews. You may recognize him from hits such as “The Light” and more recently “Come Close” featuring Mary J. Blige.

Common decides to kick the album off with a very awkward introduction, what sounds like a cough soon turns into a beat (yes, you read correctly) and trust me when I say it does not end there. “Soul Power” kicks up next with a very straight forward laced beat giving the circus feel indicated in the title, however the lyrics are much more impressive and this track seemingly comes together with a hook that bears a chant that sounds like it came from a 70’s rally.

Bilal accompanies Common on “Aquarius”, a very majestic track with electric guitars and spewing thought invoking lyrics saying “guard your grill like George Foreman / time to build / as far as buildin I’m the foreman / open the doors / my blood I expose on the floors / tell ’em the game ain’t only the score” and says in response to the largely popular thought that he’s not given full recognition “they say I’m slept on / now I’m buckin in dreams / and rhyme with the mind of a hustler[‘s] scheme”. A very innovated track that brings a 70’s feel yet doesn’t rely fully on it.

Our next guest is Sonny of rock group P.O.D. who co-stars on “Electric Wire Hustler Flower”, and at this point Common has an amazing way to mix “odd” and “sweet” to arrive at “interestingly nice to listen to”. Sonny does a nice job of laying down some guitar rifts in coerence with Common’s great delivery. “The Hustle” features Omar and Dart Chillz, and brings the same kick/snare combination we have heard thus far, but the focus quickly shifts to the uncommon wit of our album’s lyricist, and Dart Chillz delivers a commendable appearance in verse 2 as well, the topic of the song is as expected it would be, given the title.

Mary J. Blige obliges “Come Close”, a spoken-word type of track which will leave you humming with it by the second time you hear it. Definitely a song to be heard, it depicts Common talking to his girl and how she’s affected him through the course of their relationship. “New Wave” sets it off with a track that feels like the theme song from the video game Spy Hunter, and is a very retro-track you’ll notice as soon as the chorus hits. Another nice edition that features Laetitia Sadier lacing the hook with that flower power feel.

For the second time (and not the last), Bilal is brought in to lay some vocals with “Star *69 (PS With Love)”, a very slow song with a deep R&B twinge where Common is calling his loved one coaxing her with sweet nothings. Not to be left off a CD, Pharrell Williams joins Common on “I Got A Right Ta” where they chant their rights to do illegal drugs, an irony really. The chorus is pretty catchy and sounds nice, some of the delivery doesn’t sound quite right and some of it is on point, a hit and miss track.

Being that this is a retro-style album, it wouldn’t be right without inviting Cee-lo to do a track as is the case on “Between Me, You & Liberation”. Common flows the first verse about after having sex with a girl she shares with him that she was raped by her father at age 8 and since then has tried freeing herself through sex. The second verse deals with Common’s aunt on her death bed, being liberated in her passing away, the third verse he talks about a childhood friend facing his homosexual tendencies. An interesting track definitely worth a listen.

Jill Scott chimes in on “I Am Music” setting from the get-go a very nice hook, Common spits his significance in the world of hip hop. Filled with a hodge-podge of brass sounds (muted trumpets and trombones), bass lines and piano rifts this is a very brilliantly produced track, Common, as always, doesn’t miss lyrically and blends smoothly with the flow of the beat. Erykah Badu is guest-starred on “Jimi Was A Rock Star” which is by far the biggest reach of the album. I would really have enjoyed to sit in on the creative process of developing this track, as in some parts there seems to be virtually no direction whatsoever (towards the end) and if you listen to this track it is determined to drain over 8 minutes of your life. “Heaven Somewhere” wraps up the album in a spoken-word style with a mellowed music background. Common talks about a conversation he holds with a friend, who has done something terribly wrong yet does what he knows he should as defined by biblical principle outlined somewhere in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24. It finales with some soul-filled vocals, and Lonnie “Pops” Lynn speaking his ideas of what heaven is in his eyes.

Overall, this is a nice album albeit awkward at times. This could either be the album of the year or possibly the worst thing you’ve ever heard depending on your taste, there’s not much room for middle-ground here. The main prerequisite for enjoying this album is your soul-flavor, whether or not you enjoy soul will inevitably make or break this for you. Either way, Common has hit a rather nice mile-marker in his career with this release. In what I can only describe as soul-rap, this was a rather enjoyable trip and since the replay value is somewhat diminished my 3rd time through I donate a powerful 3.5 out of 5 stars to “Electric Circus”.

Track Listing:
01 Ferris Wheel
02 Soul Power
03 Aquarius
04 Electric Wire Hustler Flower
05 The Hustle
06 Come Close
07 New Wave
08 Star *69 (PS with Love)
09 I Got A Right Ta
10 Between Me, You & Liberation
11 I Am Music
12 Jimi Was A Rock Star
13 Heaven Somewhere

3.5 out of 5

Amerie: All I Have Review

Who ever would have guessed that Alaska would produce a woman with beauty, charisma, innocence, sincerity and a talent to sing R&B? Unbelievable as it is, Amerie is native to Alaska. Not that she’s exactly a newbie on the hip hop scene anymore, since she has been having some grand appearances with the likes of Nas, Royce Da 5’9″ and LL Cool J, along with hosting a show on BET now. Her potential is clearly seen, but is it clearly delivered on her debut album “All I Have”?

She starts the CD with her first release “Why Don’t We Fall In Love”, and it has a very nice feel to it with nice complex harmonies and excellent background instruments. The premise of the song is pretty simple, falling in love with a person she’s been hiding her feelings for, although not lyrically complex in the least it does ring true to life. Next is “Talkin’ To Me” which also happens to be her second solo release. Once again, the lyrics are nothing to concentrate on as much as the general feeling the song helps create with its heart-spoken songstress. A very mellow production really generates a sense of love-filled presence.

“Nothing Like Loving You” is right on par with the first two tracks, the chorus is nothing short of lovely to listen to but that’s almost all you hear for the entire song. A set of quads in the background, and some chimes here and there are still going for that aroma of emotional reminiscence. “Can’t Let Go” starts right off with a harp and piano rift that shifts straight over to the slightly up-tempo laced beat. Unfortunately this song does not really work due to the lyric/notes/flow of her words, it doesn’t compliment her all that well and comes off slightly forced. While her voice is still good, it definitely isn’t at its peak.

“Need You Tonight” is the attempt at the party starter joint, however it simply gets tiring by the time the fourth measure hits. The beat gets old quickly and she’s still singing in the same key that she’s been in since the start of the CD, towards the end she goes for some Mary J. Blige style stabs. The next song on the track list is “Got To Be There”, and it manages to hit some beautiful harmonies, but she’s still in the same dang key and singing the same pitches. At this point the beats are also managing to blend together, not a good sign. There needs to be an amount of refreshing ingenuity when the next song starts up, but not so much that it won’t fit well into the track listing, and so far this has not been accomplished.

The next selection is “I Just Died”, and finally there is a fresh beat and this is a fresh breath of air and demonstrates a better dexterity for her vocals. She assumes for the most part a whispered voice and the chorus is nice, using an analogy of falling in love with that of dying as if to say she loves her man to death, and does not desire to be brought back to life. There are once again some real nice melodic mixtures with her vocals which makes you pay attention and wish you could sing. “Hatin On You” is just a track filler, nothing to make special note of and something to just add onto the CD. It is actually the lyrics and style that makes it such a boring song that you may drift off while listening, I did, ain’t I supposed to be reviewing this?

The intro to “Float” definitely builds up a good bit of hope with a mixture of talking and her voice drops a little before the beat hits, and it is a nice beat. She gets another chance to flip up her style and it works pretty well, but now the only problem is that the harmonies are beginning to feel overdone yet it still remains beautifully sung making this a nice addition. “Show Me” has a traditional beat similar to “Nothing Like Loving You”, a very ordinary R&B rhythm. Apparently in the studio it never gets tiring to use a harmony for the chorus and sing over it, because it’s been done on every track thus far. This song fits into the selection a little too plainly.

My last hope rests on “All I Have” for something great to happen on this CD, which is for the most part a success with the intro laced with a few guitar rifts gently laid down, very nice. The chorus is a pure delight (yes, it is very harmonious) but it brings a somewhat unique feel with a more urgent beat yet she lays back on it to bring in her own vibe. It’s very R&B, but not cliché. The “Outro” is a quick reflective track with a hard piano and a few touches in the back from an organ, a nice beat and the lyrics point to a basic shout out to God, thanking him for her blessings.

Overall, the disc becomes boring at spots due to the overuse of the vocal techniques used. It would have been much
better if they had kept “Why Don’t We Fall In Love”, “Talkin’ To Me”, “I Just Died”, “Float”, “All I Have” and the “Outro” and just brought in a more thought-out seven tracks to leave a much more lasting impression on the audience. With the exception of those songs, the rest are sub par and may not even need a full listen before anxiousness sets in. However, potential is clearly seen here and for a debut album this is not horrible but it does reveal weaknesses that will undoubtedly be worked on before a future release. Due to the points of total repetition, I give this 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Track Listing:
01. Why Don’t We Fall In Love
02. Talkin’ To Me
03. Nothing Like Loving You
04. Can’t Let Go
05. Need You Tonight
06. Got To Be There
07. I Just Died
08. Hatin’ On You
09. Float
10. Show Me
11. All I Have

2.5 out of 5

Amerie: All I Have Music Review

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony: Thug World Order Review

You say the name Bone Thugs, my mind immediately springs to “East 1999 Eternal”, or perhaps I hear a female voice chanting “It’s the thuggish ruggish bone”, yet even still the enchanting “Crossroads” may come to mind. One step further? Sure, how about Mo Thugs “Family Scriptures”? My point? Well, the Cleveland group has a pretty astonishing track record, but latter releases such as “The Art of War” as well as independent releases did not seem to have the same impact as their incredible start. These men need no introduction, what they do need however is redemption which is what they are hoping to bring with their latest release which signifies their official regrouping “Thug World Order”.

The CD kicks off with “T.W.O. Intro”, the tympanies roll and we hear an intro reminiscent of “East 1999 Eternal” which rolls right into “Bone, Bone, Bone”, having an old school feel of Bone, a bouncy bass-line and the speedy flow that brings back memories, the chorus leaves much to desire however, very plain and there is not a single extra word outside the name of the track.

“Guess Who’s Back”, I’ll give you one chance to guess what this song is about. A 1980 chorus loop from “My Boyfriend’s back” (I think that’s the title), and Bone Thugs are back and we are apparently going to be in trouble. A smart mix of laid back and uptempo at the same time, once again, pretty decent flow, no lyrical complexity but it sounds nice, however the hook is scary. Next, we have “Home”, watch out for 80’s flashbacks when you hear this beat, but it is actually done in a way that doesn’t hurt my ears which is a first for any song from the 80’s. The chorus borrows another loop from the 80’s, I do not know the song it samples though, but it does sound far superior than anything thus far. I’m definitely feeling this joint.

After hearing “Home” I am optimistic once again since popping in this CD, the next track “What About Us” features some light organ music with an attempt at thought provoking lyrics and a self-reflective beat. They don’t really pull it off though it isn’t a bad track, it just doesn’t have the full effect they were going for, but it is one of their better songs on the line-up. “Get Up & Get It” featuring 3LW & Felecia is the first official release from “Thug World Order” and does what they set out to do, which is to reintroduce Bone back into the hip hop mainstream, blending a feel of pop and that thuggish ruggish bone we all remember.

“All The Way” is a very melodic soulish type of track, with a beat that just may have come from an R&B song, not too shabby, there’s some flow that is a must-hear, not that there is something that is just tight lyrically but it just sounds so nice that I have to push rewind just to let it tickle my ears again. The chorus is lacking but at this point it is to be expected.

Switching the pace from easy flowing, we shift gears right into “Pump, Pump”, full of shotgun pumps as the name would indicate, a thin beat filled out mostly by vocals. Once again, the chorus could have used a little work but the verses meet that crave for Bone’s fast and furious style. Next we are definitely going to “Set It Straight”, another song dealing with their identity, great production work here. I’m feeling the beat, but there is some out of place singing out the end that puts a big hurt on the track.

“Money, Money” finally has a decent chorus that I just may find myself chanting after the end of the song. I love the beat, there is a jazz type singer in the very back that adds tremendously to the effect. Our Cleveland friends spit about being broke and triumphing in their life, really nice production work once again.

Unfortunate. My point of reference? This next track “Not My Baby”. What exactly is unfortunate you ask? A waste of a perfectly good beat, it’s a nice beat too, yet it is without a doubt wasted on a garbage song. From the topic of a “lovechild” that isn’t theirs, to the excuse for a chorus to the verses, it’s all trash with the exception of the beat. Avant joins our notorious thugs on “Cleveland Is The City” although Avant doesn’t show up until over halfway through the song. The beat goes by unnoticed, the chorus never produces anything worthwhile since it is oversimplified and Avant is never really utilized except as a finishing touch, this track is quickly forgettable. We finish the journey with “If I Fall”, a tribute to streetlife. The hook is one of the better ones, most of the verses are just okay, not quite as nice as most of the other verses on the cd.

I have always been a huge fan of Bone’s style of light and quick flow, and they once again showcase it in a lot of good ways with very few verses not meeting the standard. Not much to look forward to as far as a “complete” song goes, but there are exceptions such as “Home” and “What About Us” that make valiant attempts at stepping up their game. Depending on where you’re from and your taste, the bad may outweigh the good since there are at least 3 tracks that cover the same topic of “We’re bone, you better recognize” which gets very old almost as fast as their speech, and also most of the CD’s choruses are so dang forgettable. Redemption? Not quite, maybe the next release will offer something more memorable. Big points taken off for lack of variety and creative approach, but I have to give big points to production since there is a good selection of nice beats, and I also love their style and group dynamics, 3 out of 5 stars.

Track Listing:
01 T.W.O. Intro
02 Bone, Bone, Bone
03 Guess Who’s Back feat. LaReece
04 Home
05 What About Us
06 Get Up & Get It feat. 3LW & Felecia
07 All The Way
08 Pump, Pump
09 Set It Straight
10 Money, Money
11 Not My Baby
12 Cleveland Is The City feat. Avant
13 If I Fall

3 out of 5

Grits: Art of Translation Review

Positive. That’s right, positive. I’ll start and end with just that, positive. I’m positive you have heard GRITS before, whether or not you recognize the name, but true hip-hop heads will automatically know the name. Hailing from Nashville, Tennessee and bringing their own flavor of hip hop to the board every time they touch a studio or microphone, their voices are easily recognizable in an ever-growing genre tainted with fly-by-night artists. Bonafide and Coffee form GRITS, creating a creative powerhouse that brought songs you have doubtlessly heard, such as “Ima Showem” that made an appearance on hit TV Show Boston Public, and you have more than likely heard other strong hits “Time Is Passing” or “They All Fall Down”. If you don’t recognize the title, then just download the tracks and you’ll instantly recognize them, then go buy the CD, because burning CDs is thievery.

Their latest CD “The Art of Translation” leaves with many more positives, but I’m getting ahead of myself already. The translating opens up with no intro, we dive head-first into “Here We Go”, thick with a latin vibe evenly mixed with some nice kicks. Great lively chorus, the style is on point and you have no choice but to bob your head. Rolling right into “Ooh Ahh” which features Tobymac, and already feeling the laid back beat which is ridden perfectly by a chorus that builds from the start to show the intricacy of the hook. Tobymac does okay, but is outshined by the heroes of our album, brilliant track covering the woes of life. A very relatable track that majestically dazzles, a must-hear.

Next, we’re “Runnin'” with a beautiful chorus sung by great female vocalists V3, which consists of Latoya, Sasha, and Shelly Vinson. We see more relatable topics covered here, and this is overall a beautiful song with a memorable hook. Bouncing right into “Tennessee Bwoys”, not feeling the hook too much, the dirty south induced chorus feels a little forced but it is a great style to bounce to, which is easily assumed to be the primary purpose. The beat is decent, and the hook is in your face. We slow it down a tad with “Be Mine” and jump right out with a very smooth hook which does what it’s intended to do, hook you. Careful listening reveals a positive message rare in the rap game today, which is faithfulness in a relationship leading to marriage. Snaps off for braving the topic and doing it in full quality. “Ill Coined Phrase” is an out of place interlude which sounds good, just out of place.

“Seriously” adds on a thick mix of guitars giving the rock ‘n roll spice, but the mix doesn’t seem to work well. The chorus feels a little off, the attempt at something new is applauded but it ultimately fails. “At The Video Shoot” interlude is entertaining, and gives the sense that you’re eavesdropping on some girls at the scene of a video shoot as it rolls into the next track “Video Girl” featuring one of my more favorite artists, Knowdaverbs. We start off with the hook which makes a valiant attempt at a catchy hook but is a little forced, and will eventually have you humming it to yourself, whether you like it or not doesn’t matter. Verbs kicks off the first verse and knocks it down without question and everyone seems to hold their own here. Once again, props are given on handing out a positive (there’s that word again) message trying to give value back to women.

The next track flows ridiculously tight with Jennifer Knapp on “Believe”, another magnificent chorus, delivered this time from GRITS’ fellow Gotee artist. We travel through some deep meditation on where our lives are and what we base our lives on. An A+ is given here for a terrific track, well balanced between a perfect tone set by the beat, the chorus and the thought invoking rhymes. Another must-hear followed closely by the interlude “What Do You Believe?”. A nice follow-up indeed, laid back beat filled out with organs, piano rifts, and nusoul vocals.

Next we’re supposed to “Get It”, an upbeat song with a rather repetitive chorus, an all around okay track. A definite banger of a follow-up hits us on “Make Room”, sweet beat with that good ol’ southern bounce. Brings some fire here lyrically and the chorus hits the spot filling out the instrumental to a “T”. If you like hot beats mixed with style and lyrics, check this song out. In tune with the interludes we have “Keep Movin'”, very soul-filled with a beat that sounds straight from a relaxed Timbaland studio, great addition here though it’s short.

Never to get dark, light is shed with “Sunny Days”. The beat gives its effect of an upbeat song yet manages to stay away from the spotlight. Rarely slipping on the chorus we’ve got another hook that meets expectations with Nirva Dorsaint spilling her intoxicating vocals throughout the track. Here hearts are lifted to give reflection and thanks to their maker. Like a fairy tale ending, we polish off the disc with the last song “Lovechild” accompanied by Antonio Phelon singing melodically, he’s sure to have you singing this as soon (if not before) the song is through. Not only is there a great beat and flowing melody, but the words will probably hit a piece of your heart. Yet another must-listen. Ending our escapade through the creative direction of our Nashville heroes is the last interlude and track “The Art of Translation”, a hypnotizing melody with some beautiful words even though I have no idea what is said, and be sure to keep listening to catch the hidden ending, because it gets better.

Do I really need to say what I think of the CD as a whole? Is that actually necessary? Have you been paying attention? I hope so, because history is in the making and I expect this CD to have a lot of influence on a lot of people, both musical and non. An astounding album with innovation & creativity deluxe. I cannot think of a better way to drop a $20 when it comes to music. A superb blend of guest appearances without ever detracting from the main event and never emitting the feeling that there’s too many guests. Do you like lyrics? Just listen. Do you like a great beat? Well, do you prefer latin, dirty south, unidentifiably unique or other? Just listen. How about a positive output that will leave you with a deposit rather than taking away any joy you already had? I’m fully convinced that we have a certified jam session that will meet all occasions and emotions.

Massive points given for style, music choice, great choruses, lyrical content, and ingenuity. Points detracted from the few choruses that didn’t meet the quota. 4.5 stars out of 5. Am I sure? Heh, I’m positive.

Track Listing:

4.5 out of 5

Kanye West: College Dropout Review

Are you freakin’ kidding me? My favorite prolific producer just picked up a mic and dropped an album, and he *produced* it also? Hmmm. I hope he ain’t like some of these solid producers who only think they can rap but really should stick to making beats. Kanye has been making major waves in the music pool, he got a big start on Jay-z’s CD “The Dynasty – Roc La Familia” which he produced “Can’t be Life” starring Hova, Scarface and Beanie Sigel, I distinctly remember loving this beat and song and was dang near the only reason I bought the album, (of course, the intro made up for anything that went wrong on the album). Kanye reveals that he actually intended his next beat to go to DMX, but thankfully it went to Jigga and became known as “Heart of the City” on the Blueprint, now after hearing his debut “The College Dropout”, will we think that these beats should have went to someone else?

The Chicago native is one of the few rappers out there to give respect to the art by actually being creative and *not* following other trends and taking the unbeaten path. He proves this in songs such as “All Falls Down”, “Jesus Walks”, “Two Words”, “Family Business”, “Spaceship”, and fortunately, it doesn’t stop there. The former of the group is the 2nd release (which better win video of the year), and uses an interpolation from Lauryn Hill’s “Mystery of Iniquity” which Syleena Johnson beautifully articulates. This is a song of many levels, he hits on many different mentalities ranging from the unwitting college girl, to materialistic psychology he quips “I say f*** the police that’s the way I treat ’em / we buy our way out of jail, but we can’t buy freedom / we all buy a lot of clothes, but we don’t really need ’em / things we buy, to cover up what’s inside / cuz they made us hate ourself and love they[‘re] wealth”.

The intensity shifts and varies, at times using songs like “The New Workout Plan” to lighten the intellectual load. Said song is a definite club banger which boasts a hot beat and club heavy lyrics such as “Ooh girl your breath is harsh / cover your mouth up like you got SARS”, he also brings in Workout Plan testimonials and manipulates their voice into the beat, very nicely done from start to finish. Immediately following the up-tempo club shot, he brings the established half tempo “Slow Jamz” featuring Twista and comedian Jamie Foxx, but please don’t be surprised at Jamie Foxx crooning on the mic, he established his R&B presence way back in the day on the soundtrack to “Great White Hype”. Who couldn’t appreciate Twista doing what he does best, which is to go Tazmanian devil on a soft beat a la “Get it Wet” or “Emotions”. Jamie Foxx is a brilliant pull out of the hat, as well as a guest appearance by Aisha Tyler.

Kanye often gets personal and sheds light on his own experiences and mental state on such tracks as “Through the Wire” and “Family Business”. The former was his solo debut which had many people scratching their heads and saying “Kanye West? Ain’t he that producer? I ain’t know he was tryin ta rap.” Ever since he released this track, which was recorded only days after a near fatal accident that had his jaw crushed and wired up causing his arrogance to be realized through his head actually being swollen (hehe), I’ve been anticipating Kanye’s every move. The beat is absolute fire, using a soul sample from Chaka Chan and don’t get me started on the video (when BET finally invites me on to do my top 25, expect it to be in the top 5 or 10).

My absolute favorite track on the record is “Family Business”, I’ve listened to it 35 or 40 times back to back and I am still not tired of listening to it. The beat is very nostalgic bearing a slight feel of an old TV family moment, yet, way deeper than that. Lyrically, if you’re even remotely attached to your family then you will relate on many different levels, I could easily quote every verse and feel justified, it’s a beautiful song which he illustrates poetically, “I woke up early this morning wit a new state of mind / a creative way to rhyme / without using nines and guns”, and “All my niggas from the Chi, that’s my family dog / and my niggas ain’t my guys, that’s my family dog / I feel like one day you’ll understand me dog / you can still love your man and be manly dog / you ain’t gotta get heated at every house warmin / sittin here grillin people like George Foreman”, or “As kids we used to laugh / who knew that life would move this fast / who knew I[‘d] have to look at you through a glass / and look, you tell me you ain’t did it, then you ain’t did it / and if you did, then that’s family business”. I’ll try to contain myself, honestly. It doesn’t quit there, he brings in some absolutely beautiful vocals and choir-like singing accompanied by a sample which reminds us “All that glitters is not gold, all gold is not reality, real is what you layed on me”. This will be the soundtrack to all my future family reunions.

“Breathe In Breathe Out” is interlude-ish and once again is a buffer to all the emotional highs and lows, one of my favorite lines on the album comes in the first verse: “always said if I rapped I’d say somethin significant / but now I’m rappin bout money hoes and rims again / and It’s still about the benjamins / big faced hundreds and whatever other synonyms / … / more chips than pentium / “what you gon’ buy next?”, whatever new trend it is”. Ludacris helps out and spits the chorus “Breathe in breathe out / let them hoes fight / pull a weave out / if a nigga act up, pull a desert eagle / when I pull a piece out, niggas like ‘peace out'”.

“Jesus Walks” is by far the beat with the most to offer, containing a chant that sounds like some dwarves off Wizard of Oz, some serious choir work, a marching drum and that barely scratches the surface, AMAZING attention to detail and creative polish. The song is divided into two verses, the first verse concentrates on being socially shackled and bound by cops, society, and the hood. The second verse actually speaks on what it means to stand out and hold ground for Jesus “they said you can rap about anything except for Jesus / that means guns, sex, lies and videotape / but if I talk about God my record won’t get played / huh?? / well, if this take away from my spins / which will probably take away from my ends / then I hope it take away from my sins”, Kanye best be careful, he is raising his own standard extremely high, especially when you talk about needing a God you defy on other tracks such as “The New Workout Plan”.

The follow up track “Never Let Me Down” which features Jay-z and an unknown J-Ivy is blended to perfection almost as if this and the previous track are the same song. Jay-z kills it in two verses, the opening 16 bars and the closing 16 bars, J-Ivy does his spoken word thang and has a terrific style and even bangs out some heartfelt language of emotion. Kanye once again comes correct, “but, I can’t complain what the accident did to my left eye / cuz look what a accident did to Left Eye / first Aaliyah now Romeo must die? / I know I got angels watchin me from the other side”. The music and chorus is all perfected with timely breaks and break-downs, and just when the song sounds like it’s ending, it drops another verse. Magnifique.

I haven’t even touched songs like “Spaceship”, that has arguably the best soul sample on the record, which fantasizes being able to just leave all the pressures and hassles of life, an incredible addition. Nor have I detailed “We Don’t Care” which pays tribute to the catch 22 of drug dealers and hard pressed youth of today. “Get em High” should also deserve attention with rhyme rippers Common and Talib Kweli partaking in a piece of history rapping about hookin up with internet chatroom babes or just plain spittin bout being hard. What about “School Spirit” which pays tribute to frats and school, “told ’em I finished school, and I started my own business / they say “oh you graduated”, no, I decided I was finished / … / this nigga graduated at the top of my class / I went to cheesecake, he was a motherf****** waiter there”.

The problems with this CD are few and far between. The first is rather obvious and blatant: is it really necessary to have 6 skits?? I will admit, the skits themselves weren’t bad, they were funny and enjoyable and they were definitely numerous. The sheer time consumption of them is what really gets you, and like I said, they were enjoyable, but they don’t need to take up 6 individual tracks, if you absolutely have to have them then blend them into the end of the previous track. The other big problem is glorifying dropping out of college, which is only a problem because of how elaborate this statement is and due to the fact that the target audience is indeed black college students. Way to go Kanye, let’s keep the black community ignorant and out of power. (Please read the sarcasm on that last statement.) Now I’m not saying you can’t be successful without attending college, heck, I haven’t been through school either, but I am saying that everyone dropping higher education is an awful idea. I do realize Kanye didn’t specifically say that, but he does communicate it in his sarcastic and slanderous statements.

Aside from those minor nuisances, this is the ideal hip hop CD, and it should not have been titled “The College Dropout”, instead it should be called “The Redemption of Hip Hop”. There is some gorgeous music overlapped with deep lyrics such as “we scream rocks blow weed Park / see now we smart / we ain’t retards / the way teachers thought / hold up hold fast / we make mo Cash / now tell my momma I belong in that slow class” (“We Don’t Care”), dexterity on the trigger of wit, “killin ya’ll niggas on that lyrical [tip] / mayonnaise colored Benz, I push miracle whips” (“Last Call”), or even relatable light hearted flow, “you know that one auntie, you don’t mean to be rude / but every holiday nobody eatin’ her food / … / act like you ain’t took a bath with your cousin, fit 3 in the bed / if it’s 6 of ya’ll, I’m talkin bout 3 by the head / and, 3 by the leg / but you ain’t have to tell my girl I used to pee in the bed”. Fortunately, I hardly scratched the lyrical surface, he never comes wack and consistently gets across what he’s trying to say.

There’s some other notable aspects, such as on track 3 after the skit he fades in a harmonious instrumental with some soft and soulful singing which leads gently into “All Falls Down”. Also noteworthy is the final track where Kanye burns 10 minutes recounting his story of how he broke into the business, excellent story and I’ll continue to listen to it. Undoubtedly, I’ll listen to this CD again and again and things will be immediately brought to memory that I should’ve put in here for praise, it’s truly a great CD that will stand the test of time due to the organic and fluid sounds mixed with lyrical genius and honesty. Don’t just buy this CD to bump in your car, also play it with your headphones on cause that’s the only way you’ll catch all the depth, believe me, I’ve listened to this CD at *least* 20 times and I am STILL catching things I missed. If skits and a ton of extra ad libs don’t bother you then this is a 5 Planet CD, I personally don’t like seeing 21 tracks, and realizing only 14 of them are actual songs, but yes, that is nit-picky, this is the strongest 4.5 star CD you will ever see. 4.5 stars out of 5.

Track Listing:
1. Intro
2. We Don’t Care
3. Graduation Day
4. All Falls Down (ft. Syleena Johnson)
5. I’ll Fly Away
6. Spaceship (ft. GLC Consequence)
7. Jesus Walks
8. Never Let Me Down (ft. Jay-z and J-Ivy)
9. Get Em High (ft. Talib Kweli and Common)
10. Workout Plan (skit)
11. The New Workout Plan
12. Slow Jamz (ft. Jamie Foxx and Twista)
13. Breathe In Breathe Out
14. School Spirit (Skit 1)
15. School Spirit
16. School Spirit (Skit 2)
17. Lil Jimmy (Skit)
18. Two Words (ft. Mos Def, Freeway, The Harlem Boys Choir)
19. Through the Wire
20. Family Business
21. Last Call

4.5 out of 5.

Mos Def: True Magic Review

After pushing the limits on The New Danger, Mos Def returns from adventures in deep space and on the silver screen with a new album, which showcases a more stripped-down and rootsy side of one of hip-hop’s most versatile men. Continuing his streak of making innovative, conscious and soulful music, the Renaissance man’s latest release True Magic is exactly what the title says. The album’s tracks deliver critical, crafty rhymes and fresh hooks as Mos raps, chants and sings his way through the streets of Brooklyn, the world of hip-hop, the heights of Black consciousness, the depths of US politics, and the feelings of love – both lost and gained.

The undeniable allure of this album lies in the seamless, uncompromising blend of politics and aesthetics which has been Mos Def’s stock and trade for over a decade. He alternates between in-your-face combative confrontation and lucent intellectual contemplation with the dexterity of Tyson in his prime, no joke, no lie, no line. For Black Star and Black on Both Sides fans who found The New Danger alienating or too experimental, welcome back. The eclectic and seemingly haphazard mixing of rap, neo-soul, gospel and rock behind phat beats in time and the truth in rhyme is back.

The back bone of the album is of course Mos Def’s uncompromising voice and ability to spin thought. More often than not, he is accompanied by simple hooks, no nonsense, which range from the bold synth lines of the title track to old-school guitar line on ‘Fake Bonanza’. However, some of the most deliciously devastating moments on the album come from the dense textures on ‘There is a way’, which features a gospel-type female chorus. Also worth note is ‘Dollar Day’, a deep critique of the politics of the Bush administration centered on New Orleans. Can you deny the words “Mr President he about that cash/he got a policy for handlin’ the niggas and the trash/and if you poor, you black/I laugh, they ain’t givin’ you ass/you better off on crack/dead or in jail or with a gun in Iraq”?

Mos also produces one of the few love songs on the market which portrays the true complexity of a relationship. On “U R The One”, he narrates through the difficult feelings of longing and anguish, angst and anger, lust and memory which comes as blessed relief from the glut of cookie cutter love songs out there.

‘True Magic’ is hip-hop, straight, no chaser; it’s an album in a classic sense: it is made to be spun front to back, and not a product of the handful of singles and a lot of filler formula which dominates so much of pop music. The bare packaging of the CD reflects this – it is sold in a plain clear plastic case with no liner notes, just the disc. Perhaps because ultimately it is the music that matters, the rest is just bells and whistles.

4.5 stars – worth every penny

Track Listing:

1. True Magic
2. Undeniable
3. U R The One
4. Thug Is A Drug
5. Crime & Medicine
6. A Ha
7. Dollar Day
8. Napoleon Dynamite
9. There Is A Way
10. Sun, Moon, Stars
11. Murder Of A Teenage Life
12. Fake Bonanza
13. Perfect Timing
14. Lifetime

by Justin Patch

Gurf Morlix: “Diamonds to Dust” Review

Raw. Unpolished. Bare. These are words to describe Diamonds to Dust, the latest album by Gurf Morlix, Austin’s man-behind-the-man. Best known for his work with Americana big-shots like Lucinda Williams, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Robert Earl Keen, Jimmy Lafave, and Slaid Cleaves, every now and then Morlix is prone to doing his own thing, on his own terms. His fourth solo effort is eleven tracks of straight-forward Americana: no production tricks, no slick soundscapes, no ‘radio tunes’, just one man’s words and music. Morlix’s songs and stories run the gamut from the quiet introspection of ‘Blanket’ – with ethereal harmony sung by Patty Griffin – to the rough edges and bleakness of ‘Windows Open, Windows Close’. Filled with two-beat bass, four-on-the-floor drums, dirty guitars that never play solos, and a voice like a mouthful of Texas dust with a whiskey chaser, Diamonds to Dust is no pick me up, no starry romance. But the rugged electric outlaw tunes and deep acoustic ballads work, like plain old good songs should.

The opening track ‘Killing Time in Texas’, a get-out-of-town-while-you-still-can ballad, sets the tone for the album: stripped-down and gritty. ‘Madalyn’s Bones’ shows off Morlix’s dark wit by appropriating a well loved children’s tune: ‘The head-bone was next to the hip bone/the hip-bone was next to the neck bone/the neck bone was next to the leg-bone/the leg-bone was next to the shoulder bone’ on the bridge. The standout track on the album is definitely ‘Blanket’, an introspective, heartfelt ballad about facing mortality, inspired by the deaths of rock icon Warren Zevon and long-time friend Chris Slemmer. Although there are a few rough spots, like the preachy droning of ‘With God on our Side’ and the clichés of ‘I’ve got a Passion’, but taken as a whole, this album measures up on its own two feet. This spins well with late Dylan – Time out of Mind or Modern Times – John Hyatt, or any of Texas’s great Americana artists, the very sound he helped to define over the past two-plus decades.

If you were looking for an album to go along with that brand spanking new six-pack, or a long drive on a dark highway, this just might be the album for you.

3.5 stars

Track Listing:

1. Killin’ Time In Texas
2. Madalyn’s Bones
3. Food Water Shelter And Love
4. Blanket
5. Diamonds To Dust
6. With God On Our Side
7. Passion
8. Windows Open, Windows Close
9. Up Against It
10. Worth Dying For
11. Need You Now

by Justin Patch