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Todd Fritsch: Sawdust Music Review

Before I begin, let me say this: Todd Fritsch’s latest, Sawdust, is pure Nashville, so if you’re not into Nashville, tune out now. If you’re still reading, here is the next point: this album is Nashville at its best. You might be able to argue about the pop-country, over-produced aspects of Nashville’s brand of country, but you can’t deny that Nashville yields talent, and Todd Fritsch has a flatbed full of it. The album is a tour de force from someone who has country music running though his veins. From honky-tonk to Cowboy songs to country crooning – a seemingly lost art – this ranching kid from Texas covers the bases in one of the most stylistically diverse country albums I’ve heard in quite some time.

One thing which is clear from spinning this album is that Fritsch has spent more than a few nights out at a dance-hall. His rhythmic feel is spot-on every time, and his ballads are better fit for a night out on the dance floor than for pop-country radio. Although innovation may not exactly be Fritsch’s gig, he displays knowledge of the corpus of country music and executes the seventeen tracks on Sawdust with musical maturity beyond his years.

The highlights of this album are the book-ends. The opening track, which is the first radio single, ‘What’s Wrong with Me’, is a great example of a well crafted pop tune and the last track, ‘Little Joe the Wrangler’, an old cowboy song is rendered as a tastefully done acoustic ballad. My personal favorite track is ‘All That’s Left is You’, which showcases some classic crooning.

Yes, there are quite a few clichés, like the obligatory love-of-a-lifetime song ‘First Date (for the last time)’, the cheating song ‘Guilty Conscience’, and the pessimistic-about-love song ‘No Part Of’, but Fritsch’s impeccable delivery and superb voice makes even the usually intolerable subjects enjoyable. The only down sides to this album are the tunes ‘The Rock’, which unfortunately conflates Southern-Style Confederate nostalgia with Christianity, and ‘If You Don’t Like Country (Time to Leave)’, a meta-country tune which is actually the most rock and roll tune on the album. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with a little bit of rockin’ country, but for someone who is so proficient in more straight-up twang and two-step, the song topic seems inherently opposed to the style.

For anyone who is into Nashville – Brad Paisley, George Strait, Tim McGraw, etc – check out Sawdust, it’ll give any of The Music City’s big boys a run for their money.

3.5 stars – definitely worth the money, if it’s your thing.

Track Listing:

1. What’s Wrong With Me
2. The Rock
3. No Part Of
4. All That’s Left Is You
5. So This Is Love
6. Guilty Conscience
7. If You Don’t Like Country (Time To Leave)
8. Life’s a Circle
9. Texas Talkin’
10. Five Mornings Down
11. Honky Tonk Talk
12. Tequila Tells
13. Tables
14. A Walk To Remember
15. Every Honky Tonkin’ Hero (Has His Day)
16. First Date (For the Last Time)
17. Little Joe the Wrangler

by Justin Patch

Bruce Robison: It Came From San Antonio Music Review

What’s in an EP? What’s the point of releasing a less-than-full-length album, especially when you’re not in need of a record contract or a South-By-Southwest gig? I suspect that for Austin’s veteran singer-songwriter Bruce Robison it was a matter of striking while the iron was hot. The seven songs that were bouncing around his head and crying out for daylight have recently been released as “It Came From San Antonio”, an eclectic and playful set of tunes.

The EP is comprised of one rock and roll tune, two ballads, one road trip story, a song about growing up and getting lost in life, another about the life of a gigging musician, and one great up-tempo pop tune. Although the feat of producing a front to back EP isn’t nearly as difficult as producing a front to back full-length album, Robison and a cast of talent deserve props for delivering 28 minutes that stand up on their own, although without a unifying theme or sound, it spins a bit like a songs-for-sale demo.

The stand out tracks are definitely “When it Rains” and “23A”. The first is a cut that tells the story of a footloose Texas music man whose car breaks down en route to the coast. He is picked up by a woman who shares his travels and his profession to a point, which comes to an abrupt end in Providence. The genius of this song lies in the lyric which ties all four verses together: “a voice that you just love to hear when it rains”. No matter who or where you are – with the exception of those who live in the desert – everyone knows exactly what Robison is referring to, that lost CD or LP which always seems to find its way onto the stereo on dreary days. Although commercial radio rarely delivers a good story, there are some great storytellers still recording and Robison is one of them. “23A” is one of the most honest portrayals of one night as a music man. It starts with playing a cover tune and ends with a dark hall, the way most gigs do. The song is short on glamour and romance, resonates with the truth of countless late smoky nights at honky-tonks all over Texas.

The head-scratcher on the EP is the title track, which sounds like 60s rock cliché salad. While the sonic content of the song might not be the highest of quality, I can appreciate a topical song, which seems to be a dying art. The tune is about Austin’s late great Doug Sahm and his band The Sir Douglas Quintet, who mixed the best of Texas and Liverpool. In this case, the wit and humor of the lyrics, and the fitting tribute to a legend of Texas music, is worth the less than engaging music.

All things considered, the EP is good. It spins well, has great, catchy tunes, fine musicianship and spot-on production. However, I can’t help but wonder if these songs are going to end up on a longer release at a later date. I’m still always a little suspicious of short releases, and as far as bang-for-the-buck, one might fare better on itunes. If you are a collector or a music snob, buy the EP just to say that you had these tunes before some less talented Nashville type scores a big hit with a cover of one of these songs, which seems to be the case with Robison’s tunes these days.

3.5 stars

Track Listing:

1. It Came From San Antonio
2. When It Rains
3. Lifeline
4. My Baby Now
5. Anywhere But Here
6. What Makes You Say
7. 23A

by Justin Patch

Nas: God’s Son Review

It would appear Nas has been busy since dropping his last LP “Stillmatic”. Since then he has managed to put out a lost tapes collection, a remix collection as well as his latest LP “God’s Son”. At this point Nas has little to prove to the industry or to the streets, he can without a doubt produce, flow and look the part of a street warrior without breaking stride. He managed to pack in 7 guest appearances throughout the span of these 14 tracks which is probably be a record for him as he prides himself on being able to hold down a track by his lonesome. He’s arguably sitting as king of the east coast rap game, will he be dethroned?

“God’s Son” opens up with “Get Down”, laden with trumpets, pianos and a bassline that will invoke a 70’s memory, even if you weren’t born yet. The hook is so simplistic yet very effective that it will be ringing in your ears, so far Nas is off to a good start. We move on to “The Cross” with a very slow beat with a scratch at the end of the bar. Mr. Jones decides to let the streets know that he’s carrying ‘the cross’ of the rap game, and calls out various people as well as methods of rap such as the use of R&B hooks, but isn’t he rumored to be hooking up with Irv Gotti? Anyway, just a self-hyped up track not worth hearing more than twice.

Moving on to “Made You Look” we are once again transported to the past via the beat, this time we are transported into the late 80s with Nas’ updated verbal spit. I think we have our official first track gone to absolute waste. Production is all off, the voice/beat mixture doesn’t work at all, the beat is just plain wack, and it ends with an acapella finish which is also horrid.

“Last Real Nigga Alive” is another detriment to this CDs name. It’s as if the kick drum and clap was stolen from “Thriller” and mixed with a synth from “Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind”, the hook is wasted oxygen that will only stress trees and their liberal counterparts.

If out of place tracks is the objective, then “Zone Out” fits right in. The beat consists of a kick and snare played in reverse, and a background that makes you wonder if Nas couldn’t afford Neptunes and took the next best thing, which is still wasted money making me wish Nas had ponied up the dough for the real thing. Oh yea, the Bravehearts are on here too, and they are also out of place. Sloppy hook, sloppy beat, decent lyrics makes this song equivalent to pots and pans noises pounded on by a singing 8 year old.

We are next accompanied by lovely singers Kelis and Claudette Ortiz on “Hey Nas”, but apparently our host didn’t feel it neccessary to get full usage out of them by supplying a good hook for them to shine on (wasn’t he ripping RnB hooks a few tracks back?). Going for the majestic feel to build up an air of Nas looking for love this track is another failure outside of a few lyrical spouts. Feel free to fast forward through this track.

Dear Lord, not another 80s kick and snare, yet “I Can” ultimately can’t. It would seem that Nas wanted to make a track for his child to give a positive message while using a Beethoven sample and allowing children to follow his lead on the chorus. This would have been better suited on a “Sesame Street” soundtrack, where there would perhaps be less contradicting statements with other songs on the CD. “Book of Rhymes” starts with a laid back keyboard and bass rift, and smoothly mixes with Nas’ vocals. Our self-proclaimed son of God spews old verses that were never used and makes a song out it, a good idea that is pulled off slyly, but only worth a few listens.

“Thugz Mansion” features Tupac and J. Phoenix, both give outstanding performances over an acoustic guitar. Strangely, I greatly enjoyed this on Tupac’s “Better Dayz” but find myself impatient for the track to end on Nas’ slightly different version, it comes across unoriginal since Tupac’s version was released a month before Nas’. Should’ve left this as a B side. The next song, “Mastermind” starts off with a refreshing bass-lead beat, but soon after quenches the thirst. Quickly forgettable chorus is only echoed with lazy flow, which is disturbing to hear Nas miss opportunities to spit flame.

Alicia Keys is featured next on “Warrior Song” and delivers a commanding hook. The intro to the song leaves you shaking your head but when the beat drops it’s a sigh of relief, because it’s a solid beat. Nas switches his flow to a more militant style to fit in seamlessly with the beat as if his voice is just another instrument used by the producer. A definite highlight to please your ears. “Revolutionary Warfare” features Lake who holds his own during the 2nd verse. The chorus is weak as Nas spouts a few quick uncatchy lines. The 3rd verse is shared between Nas and Lake, nothing noteworthy here though.

The most heartfelt song Nas has offered thus far is without a doubt “Dance” where Nas speaks to his late mother Ann Jones. The beat does its duty providing a reminiscent feel that allows Nas to express his heart concerning his mother. The tracks ends on a trumpet with a wah-wah mute which is awkward at first but then settles into place. Our last feature guest Jully Black is on the last track “Heaven” (before the bonus disc), a beautiful hook starts on a thought-invoking beat and ultimately a nice track which is probably inspired by Nas’ late mom.

Now we start the bonus disc with “Thugz Mirror Freestyle” which has a beat similar to the other 80s felt beats, read: 13 years too late. Don’t worry about looking for this proclaimed bonus. “Pu*** Killz” starts with bouncing strings, and then sparks a peacful piano rip, the track soon turns urgent once Nas starts spittin about sex. Bearable flow depicting the dangers of women, sex and love. Chalk this up to the forgettable category if there’s anymore room left. We end on “The God” where Nas declares “The God’s Son King of NYC”, which is par for the course at this point (not a good thing).

Well it looks to me that Nas went for a retro-80s retake that is bound to give him heart pains once he realizes what he released: a retro-80s mix that should’ve only had a handful of songs make the final cut. According to Jay-z’s math, we have to wait another 9 years before Nas drops another phenomenal classic, and so far Jay is right. With only a few exceptions Nas shoots enough blanks to white out his book of rhymes, God may have to disown his son here, assuming God will even associate himself with Nas in the same sentence. It pains me to do it, but Nas fully deserves his 2 out of 5 stars.

Track Listing:
1. GET DOWN
2. THE CROSS
3. MADE YOU LOOK
4. LAST REAL NIGGA ALIVE
5. ZONE OUT (W/BRAVEHEARTS)
6. HEY NAS (W/KELIS & CLAUDETTE ORTIZ OF CITY HIGH)
7. I CAN
8. BOOK OF RHYMES
9. THUGZ MANSION (W/TUPAC & J. PHOENIX)
10. MASTERMIND
11. WARRIOR SONG (W/ALICIA KEYS)
12. REVOLUTIONARY WAR (W/LAKE)
13. DANCE
14. HEAVEN (W/JULLY BLACK)

Bonus Tracks:
Thugz Mirror Freestyle
Pu*** Killz
The God

2 out of 5

Scarface: Balls and My Word Music Review

If you don’t know who Scarface is, then this isn’t the CD you need to pick up. You would be better off swinging through the mall and finding “The Diary” or even his latest success “The Fix”, although those are hardly his only releases, just the peak of the glacier actually. When Face left off on “The Fix” I was mad hyped up over him all over again just like when I was younger, so when I heard through the grapevine that he was already releasing another CD the anticipation rose to new heights. However, isn’t it always unfair to expect an artist to do a repeat performance since they’re supposedly looking to take their flavor in a new direction and try new stuff out? Not to me. When I got the advanced copy my hopes were floating pretty dang high. The turnout? <sigh> Not what I was hoping, but still above the average artists skill level, word is that many verses from here are taken from some of his previously layed flow from a few years back.

The intro was pretty nice, he brought back some of these old school samples that he used on his old joint “Mr. Scarface”, pretty hot. He brings a little heat in “Recognise” when he spits out “how can a nigga from the south get a pass in every section / and walk the projects with no protection / be surrounded by a mob, and not get robbed / can a sinner be a savoir and not be God?”. The beat has that down south style to it, but not as nice as “On My Grind”, this beat is serious fire with a slow bobbin bass line and piano rift. Face flows about his days of slinging powder and making connections as a youngster, Z-Ro laces the chorus and makes it nice.

“Bitch Nigga” samples Dre’s hits on his beat and 50 Cent’s “In Da Club”, and is aimed at calling out snitches and haters, Z-Ro spits some hot stuff “look at mama’s baby out here starvin for an ass whippin / beefin with a magician and trippin, now his ass missin / I’ll be damned if I pull a rabbit out of a hat / but pull a pistol outta a holster and put a bitch nigga on his back”, and if you get a chance to listen to this track, that third verse is blazing, but I’ll leave that for you to discover.

“Stuck At The Standstill” is still Face droppin street science over a street beat, nicely done. “Strapped” is a short interlude of a guy/girl phone conversation that could’ve been left out. “Only Your Mother” brings in Houston favorite Devin the Dude, the hook is saying “only your mother could love you”, and the verses go on to talk trash about multiple situations on women. Not really a brilliant song or any notable flow, just brings a derogatory feel to women that is not contributing anything worthy of praise from a professed Christian.

Speaking of faith, the next track “Make Your Peace” develops thoughts on God and afterlife. The beat is provoking and sparks the mind to listen and think, Scarface goes over different lines of thought such as God versus science, or Christian Scientists and the like. The only problem is that any valid thought in this song is drowned out by the rest of Face’s music and lyrics that reveal the contradiction in his words leaving no room for one to take advice from a hypocrite.

Aries sings the hook on “Spend The Night” which is about one night stands. Hot beat brings a vibe of something you would roll to on a summer night, the lyrics are seriously lacking though. “Mary 2” is a psychedelic song about weed. I’m sure Mr. Jordan accomplished what he was going for which is a song to vibe to while you’re high, but since I’m critiquing here, he should’ve dropped some of the mid-level sounds to make his voice more clearly heard. “Dirty Money” mixes in a 70’s style with a little 90’s, definitely a nice feel to it. The topic is obvious from the title, it’s all about the street hustle and Tanya Herron is a nice addition for the chorus since she fits like a puzzle piece for this bluesy-rap song.

“Fuckin with Face” and “Invincible” are average as far as Scarface beats go, nothing notable and nothing to track back to, the latter suffering the same mixing fate as “Mary 2”. Mostly filled with mundane lyrics, but there’s a few hot lines here and there on “Invincible”. “Real Nigga Blues” is a hot spoken word track, very dramatic and some great vocal emphasis from Lil Papa Roach.

Now I’m a big fan of Scarface from way back, and there’s definitely some pretty phat tracks on here such as “Recognise”, “Bitch Nigga”, “Stuck At The Standstill”, “On My Grind”, “Make Your Peace”, but that’s about it (unless you’re in the mood for spoken word over a dark beat then “Real Nigga Blues” is for you). Face has been a street legend for years now, and this definitely won’t deteriorate that in the least, but it probably won’t be remembered after a couple years either. Now the only other issue that Face needs to address outside of the things already mentioned is the marketing, very few people are even aware of this CD being released, perhaps he’s experimenting and trying to see if he can produce a more long term sales effect by letting the music promote itself? Who knows the bottom line is that this is not his finest work and neither his worst, it’s mediocre when it compares to his other releases and above 90% of other emcees’ work, thus it deserves the very fine rating of 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Track Listing:
01. Balls and my Word
02. Recognise
03. On My Grind ft. Z-Ro
04. Bitch Nigga ft. Z-Ro and Dirt Bomb
05. Stuck At The Standstill
06. Strapped
07. Only Your Mother ft. Devin the Dude
08. Make Your Peace
09. Spend the Night ft. Aries
10. Mary 2
11. Dirty Money ft. Tanya Herron
12. Fuckin’ with Face
13. Invincible
14. Real Nigga Blues ft. Lil Papa Roach

3.5 out of 5

Nappy Roots: Wooden Leather Review

Nappy Roots banged out a name for themselves with their first single “Awnaw” off their debut CD “Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz”, then set it to relatable heights with their second single release “Po’ Folks” single-handedly putting Kentucky on the hip hop map. Nappy is composed of six men putting it down for their state without any shame whatsoever. After a full listen to their debut CD it wouldn’t be true in any shape to deny their talent and level of excellence. So after having such a successful (and may I say ridiculous) first album, will they be jinxed by the sophomore slump?

Let’s begin with the production. There is not a bad beat on this entire album, some songs have exceptional beats however, such as “Nappy Roots Day” which sets the mood incredibly well with a lot of low noises and a voice sample that strings the beat along. The only producers you may recognize is Raphael Saadiq, (“Work In Progress”, “Leave This Morning”) who is more commonly viewed as an artist than a producer, Kanye West (“These Walls”) and Lil Jon (“What Cha Gonna Do?” (The Anthem)). That’s right, no Timbaland, no Puffy and no Neptunes, and guess what? It’s a more original album for it. Lots of guitars, hand claps and organs lace plenty of beats without the monotony ever drying it up, especially with crazy beats thrown in like “Twang”.

Raphael Saadiq is definitely not a disappointment with his production skills and is actually really nice on “Leave This Morning” creating a very neo soul environment and for a moment you forget you’re listening to some Kentucky boys kicking some flow with the hook provided by the man behind the mixing board, good stuff. His skill doesn’t quit there though, he hooks us up again on “Work In Progress” (which he does not add his vocals to), a very intellectually provoking aura to back up such lyrics as “everybody knows it costs to be the boss / yeah the price is kinda steep, but sacrifice is never cheap”. Kanye does an amazing job on “These Walls”, the beat never taking the focus off the lyricists yet not making it impossible for them to make a point, the ending of the song however may leave you speechless in empathy as you hear a public sampling of the announcement of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. Lil Jon’s beat could easily be identified in a police lineup, not that it’s bad in any way, it’s just very Lil Jon-ish is all I’m saying, but it’s good none the less.

The greatest compliment to the production (Executive Produced by Kevin Mitchell & Mike Caren, Caren Exec Produced their previous album) is that the music never gets stale and always supports the group, always falling into its proper position as another supporting member there to provide atmosphere for head bobbing, chin scratching, or in Lil Jon’s case, carpet cutting.

The overall style of Nappy Roots is so diverse that they won’t allow you to predict their next move, other than the obvious “it won’t be something we’ve already done”. It’s a brilliant mix of different character styles yet constantly taking a focused approach to each track to present near perfect harmony. The track ordering seems like it was planned out before the tracks were even laid down, good flow of the CD. Guest appearances were kept to a low, I guess when you have six people to draw talent from there really isn’t much need to call in a lot of outside sources. The only guests are Anthony Hamilton (from the first album’s “Po’ Folks”) on “Push On”, and the aforementioned Raphael Saadiq, both delivering admirable performances.

Lyrically it’s tough to correct them, each one delivers on-point performances always stepping up to the plate and getting the job done with no slouch. Here’s a few excerpts:

“…why my wife is curious / bout how much she could get me on for life insurance / wish there was bummin, no problems, that’s when life was purest / mo’ money mo’ problems that’s right notorious”: “Sick & Tired”.

“baby I told you how I made a dollar, outta dime and a nickel / blue collar, gotta grind on instrumentals / see my pencil and pad has been punchin the clock / I put in time and a half skip lunch I can’t stop”: “Leave This Morning”.

“slept and ate with our peeps but we let the streets raise us / kept the weed blazin and the let drink age us / used to live outrageous / now we just couch potat’es / without the wages / straight out them project cages / make do with what we got, use the logic that God gave us….” “Now we finally feelin plush / goin gotta do it keep our nails air brushed / J’s straight out the box ain’t ne’er been touched”: “Push On”.

“”I’m bout 3,000 miles from Graceland / by the county from Akin / but you would think an arm reach from satan”: “These Walls”.

Obviously, that’s only a taste and will not do justice without the style and presentation. They definitely do not bring some lyrical flow that is tough to outwrite, but they bring it with conviction and a deep sense of poetry which makes it more real for the listener and more than mere words. Choruses are sharply written with precision you could only find on an exacto-knife. “Good God Almighty”, “Nappy Roots Day”, “Push On” and “Leave This Morning” are a few of the oustanding ones (there’s many), but very few fall below quality level. The only ones that could use a new thought are “War / Peace”, “What Cha Gonna Do?”, and some were just decent like “Light & Dark” and “Twang”. Some party vibes are shot through joints like “What Cha Gonna Do?” and “Twang”, which are both sure to make DJ’s happy roun’ the globe.

Overall, a very quality album to cop (which is highly recommended) which should not disappoint many if any. If you thought their debut CD was worth while, then you’ll love the latest since it surpasses the forerunner which is not easily done when an artist debuts a hot CD, most typically crumble under the pressure to be too creative and end up with a crappy record, but clearly not here, they keep it nappy to the fullest. 4 out of 5 stars.

Track Listing:
1. Intro
2. Good God Almighty
3. Nappy Roots Day
4. Roun’ The Globe
5. Lac Dogs & Hogs
6. Sick & Tired
7. Twang
8. Leave This Morning ft. Raphael Saadiq
9. Work In Progress
10. Push On ft. Anthony Hamilton
11. No Good
12. These Walls
13. War / Peace
14. Roll Again
15. What Cha Gonna Do? (The Anthem)
16. Light & Dark
17. Outro
18. Roun’ The Globe (Collipark Remix)

4 out of 5

Nas: Stillmatic Music Review

Nas was once labeled a prodigy, but soon afterwards his quality went down and we have yet to see the caliber of sound that he once produced on the classic CD of “Illmatic”. Since then, his CDs have drastically degraded in substance.

Having said the necessary, let’s get down to business on his latest CD “Stillmatic”. The very name of the CD echoes his original “Illmatic”, but even the artwork screams that there have been some changes at Ill Will Records, Nas’ very own record label. A short list of guests include recently released AZ and beautiful songstress Amerie.

The intro, aptly titled “Stillmatic” is one of the better openers that have been out in a while. Provides a very smooth yet energetic beat which poetically flows with Nas’ voice and gives off a great vibe. Track 2 “Ether” moves a little less poetic, instead giving you the compulsion to bob your head. God’s Son (Nas) decided to dedicate an entire track to dissing Jay-z, his multi-platinum selling New York rival, and effectively terrorizes Jayhova. A pretty brilliant track.

“Got Ur Self a…” is another worthwhile track that mixes an up-tempo beat, full of cymbals, piano rifts and guitar plucks, with a lyrical Nas kicking knowledge about his street skills. While this is an overdone topic, he does it in great style. Speaking of abused rap material, next up is “Smokin”. The Queensbridge native decides to flow about subjects ranging from his origins, blazing blunts, street war and thug friendship, but it is way too difficult to not like this track when it has such a nice beat and verbal disposition.

Track 5, titled “You’re Da Man” has a polished instrumental with a nice vinyl sound to it. Truly a nice piece of work here, plenty of subtleties between the beat and Nas’ remarkable use of metaphors and a very catchy hook. Followed up by “Rewind” brings an old school feel in a revised and updated way while Nas tells a story about a day in his life. A decent track, hardly noteworthy or inspiring unlike the ridiculously tight, soon to be legend “One Mic”. This track is perfect in every way, Nas did the production on this track which says a lot about his production skills. The lyrics emit a sense of reality and call to action. This track is simply incredible and will be the measuring stick of every other deep soul searching type of rap joint from here on out.

“2nd Childhood” like most of the other tracks gives a thick bass line, very nice & relaxed feel. A creative reflection on his neighborhood where he speaks on people from around his way and never growing up. “Destroy & Rebuild” is yet another track to attack and correct anyone out of line from Nas’ blueprint of how it should be. Although it is not quite clearly expressed.

Arguably the best track outside of “One Mic” is next when Nas teams up with AZ on “The Flyest”. AZ brings fire with his verse and outshines Nas’ 2nd verse, but the real treat is in the 3rd verse where Nas & AZ trade lines throughout the verse, outstanding. Not to forget the chorus, a very determined R’n’B hook fits the song to a “T”. This an amazing song that is a must-hear.

“Rule” features the other guest star Amerie who samples Tears for Fears’ “Everybody wants to rule the world”. Nas addresses the state of the world as he sees it, naturally he focuses on all the negative aspects while attacking the President and Colin Powell. A decent track, very similar feel to other tracks, but this time easily forgettable. While focusing on everything wrong in the world Nas opens the next track telling us “whatever you feel is rightfully yours, go out and take it even if that means blood and death.” Despite his inability to stay on track with his own views, “My Country” sits perfectly into “Stillmatic” schematics beatwise and lyrically, another quality addition.

Ending the official track list is “What Goes Around”. There is a lot of poison in this song, at least according Nasir, where views are expressed in a fashion that echoes “Rule”, different beat and different words. “Every Ghetto” is listed as a bonus track, and thankfully it was added. As the name would indicate, this track is strictly street-level, the laid back rhythmic percussion overlapped by some nice lighter piano-like sounds create a great ending to a near perfect CD.

The inevitable conclusion here is that Nas has finally redeemed himself from his latest misfires such as “Nastradamus”, this CD is quality on nearly every level. Production is outstandingly perfect, Nas brings the fire lyrically never wasting a single line and this is a must have in the CD collection. The only flaw is an overall lack of creative content, which is a minor flaw but effects the replay value of certain songs, while other songs such as “One Mic”, “Ether”, “Smokin”, and “The Flyest”, to name a few, will have you consistently making sure there is a backup copy just in case you lose the original. Nas deserves his 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Track Listing:
01 Stillmatic (The Intro)
02 Ether
03 Got Ur Self A…
04 Smokin
05 You’re Da Man
06 Rewind
07 One Mic
08 2nd Childhood
09 Destroy & Rebuild
10 The Flyest (feat. AZ)
11 Rule (feat. Amerie)
12 My Country
13 What Goes Around
Bonus Track: Every Ghetto

4.5 out of 5

Heather Headley: This is Who I am Review

I first heard of Heather Headley from a website (which one I can no longer recall) in which it was stating that she was the next big thing and had won a bunch of online awards. I took a quick listen and didn’t feel like paying attention and quickly forgot her. Well, I probably shouldn’t have done that, she’s deserving of whatever awards she received. Not only has she received net awards, but she was honored with a Tony (by no means a small accomplishment) for her role as Nala in Disney’s Broadway show “Lion King”. Originally from Trinidad, Heather came to America when she was 15 in a move to Fort Wayne, Indiana, she is much more accustomed to live performances than a recording studio but as you will soon see, it came out quite nicely.

“this is who i am.” opens with “He Is”, a very bluesy soul-filled rendition of Ms. Headley’s love of another, most would assume she is speaking of a man, but deeper inspection should reveal she is possibly speaking about God. A pretty amazing song with great insight and high love. “Nature Of A Man” is a pretty simple song in concept and musically is not complex either, yet it’s simply pleasing since it involves a beautiful voice.

“Fallin’ For You” was co-wrote by Heather, and is a very uptempo song with a Pop appeal starring a small reggae rap from Chukki Starr, no, I don’t know who he is either but that doesn’t stop his part from giving the song a fresh breath. The next song received pretty good rotation on BET’s “Midnight Love” and was actually the reason I picked up the CD in the first place, the song I’m speaking of is “I Wish I Wasn’t”. It’s a very slow and gradual song of a heart-worn love attempting to let go of a hard relationship. A pretty brilliant song executed to perfection, the chorus andverses go hand in hand with great transitions and a great bridge to bring it all together, she demonstrates some vocal dexterity that few mainstream Pop princesses possess.

Going back to a bluesy feel she comes with “Fulltime”, which speaks love is a fulltime job and not to be taken lightly. Once again Heather Headley inspires us with a voice of gold bearing fruit with a heavy Toni Braxton-ish tone yet able to flex in another dimension when she takes it up in pitch without losing an ounce of quality. Next is “Like Ya Use To”, a funky uptempo beat heavy laden with percussion and harmonica. A fun beat and a chantable chorus make a good overall addition to the track listing. “Always Been Your Girl” slows the tempo back down with a piano laced true R&B tune. A very beautiful heartbroke song, depth is not an issue here and is heightened with a guitar solo to take you into her world which crumbles and hits you.

“Sunday” is also co-written by our star performer, another uptempo track about easing her mind for a day and get away from the stresses of a relationhip strained by another woman’s intervention. “Four Words From A Heartbreak” slows it up a tad and the title gives a semi-obvious description about the topic. A comforting track and easy to connect with (even for a guy), the overall quality of this song is reminescent of Mariah’s earlier days, an enviable position to be in. A deep message centered track is “Sista Girl”, one of the best messages in an R&B song that I can recall. A funky kind of melody backing the vocals draws you in easily enough to hear what she’s talking about, another decent addition.

“Why Should I Cry” starts slow and still but picks up when the chorus hits, an organ ushers in a love essence soon backed up by bass and finger snaps in the usual kick/snare combination. Another simple and understandable song and easy enough to get into, pleasing to the ear. “If It Wasn’t For Your Love” is a deep moving song orchestrated with strings and a beautiful piano rift, a very gospel-like attitude. Not much of a chorus except for what the title states at the end of each verse, a gorgeous track not lacking depth or complexity, and it does so without ever touching the percussion set. Excellent.

As much as I have enjoyed the album, there’s a problem. The problem is not in her voice by any means, the problem is not lyrically in any conceivable way, the issue is not in her delivery which is superb to say the least, the instrumentation isn’t the problem, since it does exactly what it intends. The problem isn’t the track listing or order. So what is the problem? It’s the intangible. As in, the CD as a whole doesn’t possess it. There are some amazing stand out songs such as “I Wish I Wasn’t” and “If It Wasn’t For Your Love”, and there’s not a single bad song on here. The songs are all good, but for the most part, just good. Not something you’ll be thinking about for ages to come, save any relatable material you connect with (accomplished easily enough). She has that next level “Whitney” ability (not “potential”, we’re talkin’ ability), but it needs to be unleashed through songs that are able to let it come through in a way that will stain your mind with two simple words: Heather Headley. 3.5 stars out of 5.

Track Listing:
01. He Is
02. Nature Of A Man
03. Fallin’ For You
04. I Wish I Wasn’t
05. Fulltime
06. Like Ya Use To
07. Always Been Your Girl
08. Sunday
09. Four Words From A Heartbreak
10. Sista Girl
11. Why Should I Cry
12. If It Wasn’t For Your Love

3.5 out of 5

Scarface: The Fix Music Review

Emerging from the hood of Houston, Texas, Scarface has seen and lived what he raps about. Scarface, born Brad Jordan, came out of the notorious rap group Geto Boyz who bred hits like “My Mind Playing Tricks On Me”, or maybe you remember the infamous album directly from Scarface, “The Diary”. Face has always kept his street credibility, kept his business wits when signing deals for Def Jam as the president of Def Jam South. Now Brad is picking the mic back up with a brand new record to drop with “The Fix”.

It’s clearly evident that Scarface hasn’t lost his touch to not only hear great hip hop, but to produce it as it is evident on “Safe”, hot jazzy rhythm with a nice thick undertone which blends perfectly with Face’s bass booming voice. Scarface drops some street knowledge here “watch your so-called homeboys, keep to yourself / stay away from niggas gettin caught that get out of jail”, never lacking on his wisdom, he keeps it street. It doesn’t stop there, “In Cold Blood” continues the vibe of Face’s hard-knock lyrics and flavor, you get the feeling that Face never left the game with his love for hustle wordplay.

Jay-z and Beanie Sigel come aboard on “Guess Who’s Back”, Jay starts off kind of slow but kicks in during the last few lines, the production is handled by R.O.C.’s own Kanye West which is evident on the beat, Beanie come out pretty nice and overall the song comes together very smoothly from the intro to the end. “On My Block” brings that reminiscent vibe with a heavy piano sample from Donny Hathaway, and lyrics talking about the home of our host, “that’s me dog, on my block / I ain’t have to play the big shot / niggas knew back when I was stealin beer from Shamrock / and my nickname was creepy / and if blackdude could see me/ he’d be trippin, and I bet he’d still try to tease me”.

“Keep Me Down” lays it down keeping with expectations, you can feel that southern love seep through the rhythm, and Face kicks some more of that street science keeping it laced with fire. Songstress Kelly Price steps to the plate next on “What Can I Do” and immediately I’m already in love with the song, Kelly ushers in the intro until the beat fully drops as Scarface drops some heartfelt flow expected of a street legend. We see the other side of Face’s hardness, the chorus is powerfully yet gently supplied by Kelly Price while verses are escorted smoothly and thoughtfully by Face. Face produces his own track next on “In Between Us” which features Nas who blows out the introductory verse with perfection. Face comes real as always saying “I’ma tell a [fella] like this / you’re only good as what you come up against”, Tanya Herron provides the well-written chorus.

Bad Boy’s Faith Evans comes out to display her abilities on “Someday”, a spiritual song which Face spends talking to God and partly talking to his audience. An amazing song which earned Face a hip hop quotable in The Source’s October 2002 issue, Scarface shows some Christian knowledge yet denies its power through the rest of his music content. Face next addresses sellouts in his song titled, well, “Sellout”. He probably gives the best advice in the first verse, “it’s been a long time comin, now I’m back at it / flippin the script from ballin back to gangsta rap classics / you know that [stuff] that hit the hood and upset it / if real niggas respect it the squares gon’ rep it”.

Scarface comes back to his Christianity (among other topics) again in “Heaven”, also bringing back Kelly Price for some easy going vocals. Slow and melodic beat turns out decently. “I Ain’t The One” brings in WC who you may remember from the old Westside Connection group with Mack 10 and Ice Cube, this is a pretty hot track from the standpoint of production, feel and general flow of the song. “Fixed” reuses the introductory beat, and it’s still tight.

Scarface definitely did a favor to the rap world by dropping this CD, and to say that it will go down as a classic is easily said and will be easily done. It’s not hard to see why Face will always get respect, he never strays from his roots and he always keeps it real. The man brought the goods with seamless production and hood science, executive produced by himself he keeps the focus gully and never loses site of that. Some argue that he’s a legend, and reasonably so. 5 out of 5 stars.

Track Listing:
01. Fix
02. Safe
03. In Cold Blood
04. Guess Who’s Back – Jay-Z
05. On My Block
06. Keep Me Down
07. What Can I Do? – Kelly Price
08. In Between Us – Nas
09. Someday – Faith Evans
10. Sellout
11. Heaven – Kelly Price
12. I Ain’t the One
13. Fixed

5 out of 5

Tupac: Better Dayz Review

The only rival that Tupac has in the lineup of greatness is Biggie, that conversation alone has tended to spark heated debates. Pac’s death elevated his name in the street hall of fame and thus he became “immortal” (alongside The Notorious B.I.G. of course). Pac was busy enough while he was alive that he has released more material posthumously than when he was breathing, and showing no signs of slowing down with releases slated for next year. In the most recent release “Better Dayz”, Executive Produced by CEO of Tha Row Records, Suge Knight, and Tupac’s own mother Afeni Shakur, we have another double disc on our hands which will reveal whether Pac could handle the problem of mass amounts of music and sustaining quality.

Our double disc adventure opens with an intro of a news journalist reporting live at sunset boulevard for the release of this very CD, and questions where all the material is coming from, basically echoing what we are all wondering. The intro rolls right into “Still Ballin”, a bangin beat which is easily identified as West Coast, a guest appearance by Trick Daddy as he delivers the 2nd verse surprisingly unnoticed.

“when We Ride on our Enemies” delivers a very noteworthy Tupac track, and as the title would indicate, it’s about everyone Pac considered against him, attacking many of the same individuals as on Makaveli. The chorus is mostly instrumental with Pac chanting the title but it comes extremely strong despite its simplicity. Jazze Pha produces and stars in “Changed Man”, along with T.I. & Johnta’ Austin, great feel and flow fits right at home in this track where Pac talks about being different yet the same since he’s come out the street. “F*** Em All” & “Never B Peace” both flow nicely, while the latter (mixed by Nitty) cameos the Outlawz at their best.

On “Mama’s Just A Little Girl” the mood is incredibly set by a spanish guitar assisted by the usual laid back snare, kick and bassline, a very smooth and gentle reflective track assisted by Kimmy Hill that tells the story of a young lady left alone since her parents are killed, she gets pregnant and watches her child (Tupac) suffer the same fate. “Late Night” is produced by DJ Quik who also features on the track, along with The OUTLAWZ, makes a nice appearance on this laid back west coast joint.

Disc One ends on “Thugz Mansion”, guaranteed to make you question the sanity of our executive producers during the opening seconds, until the acoustic guitar instrumental sets in and the beat majestically flows with Tupac’s verses, Nas makes a grand appearance and rips a heartfelt verse not to be forgotten anytime soon. This is a must-listen for everyone, Pac drops some open-hearted flow, “I cry at times, I once contemplated suicide / and would’ve tried / but when I held that nine / all I could see was my mama’s eyes”, remaining all the time relatable, “not knowin it’s hard to carry on when noone loves you / picture me inside the misery of poverty / no man alive has ever witnessed struggles I’ve survived”. The chorus settles perfectly, sung by J. Phoenix, helping you envision a heavenly resting place away from struggles, strife and worry.

Disc Two opens where the first disc left off, with “My Block (remix)” which still aims for our central ventricle, effectively touching down with a combination of Tupac’s famed reality lyrics, but adding a chorus sung by kids singing “Living life is but a dream / hard times is all we’ve seen”, a beautiful chorus and beat to match. Following is the familiar radio version of “Thugz Mansion” which brings such a brand new feel from the acoustic version, it’s amazing how huge a difference the music/beat plays in a song. The chorus is also switched up by Anthony Hamilton to spell out a more ghetto persona for the same song (minus Nas and J. Phoenix”), another future classic track chalked up.

Tyrese makes an appearance on “Never Call U B**** Again” singing a beautiful hook. Pac relates a story of him and his girl, the good times and bad while apologizing for the things he says and the way he acts. “Better Dayz” brings another laid back west coast bump talking about looking ahead for a hope of better days yet to come, a simple hook but backed up by Mr. Biggs creates an extremely effective track. Jazze Pha produces another track on “U Can Call” and sets a great chorus and laces another hot song. “Military Minds” suffers from poor production, the vocals are mixed too low to fully appreciate, and the chorus struggles also. “Fame” throws a catchy hook from the get-go, and Pac brings another fire laced verse, accompanied by Kadafi, Kastro, Napoleon, and Young Noble from the Outlawz, they each hold their own in memorable spit.

In “Fair Xchange remix” & “There U Go” Pac spits about females, the former including Mya singing the chorus, a forgettable track, while the latter will deserve a few spins now and again due to its relaxed easy feel. “This Life I Lead” has Tupac spitting “I want money in large amounts / my garage full of cars that bounce” which is basically par for the course once you calculate in his flame bringing down his enemies, Pac himself leads the chorus which undoubtedly leaves yet another track that sparks flame to add to this fireball.

Most artists struggle with putting out a strong double disc (Jay-z anyone?), and in fact it would be easy to assume that anyone who made ridiculous amount of tracks would suffer a great deal from lack of quality. Yet stunningly, even after several released discs, that is still not the case with Pac’s “Better Dayz”. From time to time a track will be forgettable “Military Minds” comes to…mind), but the rest fit perfectly into one of the top releases Pac has had competing even with his Makaveli release and “Me Against the World”. Shakur was not renowned for his ability to put complex word couplets together, it’s his remarkable skill of using a pen and one of a kind voice to relate woes (“Thugz Mansion”), street and cultural views (“They Don’t Give A F*** About Us”), and God (“Who Do U Believe In”) to anyone who has a set of ears and a heart. An amazing collection of material remixed for our enjoyment, a must have for any avid Pac fan, and even the ones who only want the Prime-choice of Tupac. An outstanding 4 out of 5 stars.

TRACK LISTING:

DISC ONE
1. INTRO
2. STILL BALLIN
3. WHEN WE RIDE ON OUR ENEMIES
4. CHANGED MAN
5. F*** EM ALL
6. NEVER B PEACE
7. MAMA’S JUST A LITTLE GIRL
8. STREET FAME
9. WHATCHA GONNA DO
10. FAIR XCHANGE
11. LATE NIGHT
12. GHETTO STAR
13. THUGZ MANSION – NAS ACOUSTIC

DISC TWO
1. MY BLOCK REMIX
2. THUZ MANSION
3. NEVER CALL U B**** AGAIN
4. BETTER DAYZ
5. U CAN CALL
6. MILITARY MINDS
7. FAME
8. FAIR XCHANGE REMIX
9. CATCHIN FEELINS
10. THERE U GO
11. THIS LIFE I LEAD
12. WHO DO U BELIEVE IN
13. THEY DON’T GIVE A F*** ABOUT US

4 out of 5

Verbs: Unlocked Review

Verbs (previously Knowdaverbs) has undergone some changes. Previously rocking dreads, and a longer name he has definitely switched up a few things, but more on that later. Verbs originally got his break by hopping on a track with label-mates Grits, and soon after was scooped up by Gotee Records. He now resides in Tennessee and has released two previous albums (“DaSyllabus” and “Action Figure”), and each time growing artistically and setting mile markers for his career. Will he keep it up on this third release “Unlocked”?

“Live To The Music” opens up on a very hot beat reminiscent of something the Neptunes might be capable of creating, upbeat and futuristic with a middle-eastern appeal. He has definitely exchanged his choppier lyrical rap for a smoother flowing style, the style is a nice switch, but it appears to come at the cost of his wittier flow we previously enjoyed. The hook comes across forced and unimaginative as a more generic party chorus.

“She’s Ms. Sin” brings the chorus out first, and it’s very nicely led by Out of Eden (also on Gotee). The rhythm is lacking but is made up for in content of the song overall. The message is pretty simple and is about being smarter about the decisions we make to step into sin by its allure. Lyrically, mid-tempo flow is not overly creative but does bring a mild poetic taste, but the hook is music to your ears.

“Trippin'” comes a little closer to something bumpable and has a very bouncy beat to allow a little dancing and head-bobbing. The hook rolls very nicely and almost demands you learn it so that you can chant along with Verbs and GUEST, whom, while valiantly attempting to grab the mic with authority ultimately does not accomplish anything noteworthy. However, Verbs does a great job on his verse style-wise, lyrically and delivering something to make you go “hmmmmm”, such as “fatherless dealin with rage, they fight to escape the shame / finger pointing at knife’s to blame and the bitterness begins to flame / not seeing beyond the hood, life is automatically lacking / demons of death on desolate blocks, and they feigning for destiny jackings”.

“Love Triangle” slows the tempo up a tad bit with a smooth guitar (spanish guitar perhaps?) and heavy kick drum giving the meditative aura. The hook is provided by GUEST2 and is about average in the presentation and wording. Verbs manages a great vocal inflection coupled with provocative lyrics sparking deeper thought through poetic verses.

“Pre-Paid” has a very contrived chorus, Grits co-stars on the first two verses in this uptempo party jam. The first verse is cannon fodder but is made up for in verse two by his gritty partner. Verbs hops on the third verse mildly overall but drops a nice line in “the game of life will handle you in a manly way / leave you actin Immature like you’re B2K”. “What You Rock Now” bangs out the chanty chorus first, all eyes are on Verbs this time, the beat fades gently to the background to bring sole focus on our hero who spews the chorus “What you rock now, and how you rock now, echoes in eternity / if it’s not you who then? / and if it’s not now then when, does the greatness begin?…” and in a verse spits “now some hate this / he stamps a name on the faceless / and planted his genetic code, its DNA laced with greatness / feeling like a winner from a sweep stakes / as we sweep breaks just to give the listener a sweet taste”. A very destiny-by-God oriented song brings home relevance to those who are quick to listen, not a flashy beat or super hot chorus, but lyrically capable of deep thought and nice wordplay.

“Feelin’ The Interlude” captures Verbs stepping outside of his normal rapping voice and he switches to a reggae rap-sing style, and it does not sound bad at all, although it may come a little awkward at first but it does work nicely to be quite honest. This will be a nice song to get the crowd dancing, albeit for only two minutes since it is a rather short song. “My Neighborhood” finds a rather laid back tone with a nice jazzy vocal sample to make your ears attentive. Lyrics are the core focus, but instead of the wordplay you’ll find yourself intently hearing stories of young people coming out of bad situations to rise above the trials. Brilliant stories (which I would assume are true) coupled with a solid beat and great hook a la Grits.

“Run With It” is a very electronic vibe, with a grinding bass line and plenty of electric hits. Verbally, Verbs comes with 3 sets of 16 bars properly connecting each word with plenty of skill. The chorus is blah, it’s there but won’t be in your mind once you turn the station making this a good track to pad the record but nothing to be remembered past the first play. “Can You Hear Me?” is another padding for the album, the first two verse are provided by GUEST and GUEST respectively, and both go by unnoticed and the saving grace is a few lines by Verbs in the third, “trained for the combat, built rock diesel / injected with a power that can quicken dead people / some stay sleep, but that’s not us / we’re infamous and popular in the populous”. The hook leaves a lot to be desired and the beat is nothing to gain attention.

“The Before and After” is all about 9/11, the day before and the day after. A reflective rhythm geared to spawn thoughts invoked from the verses and chorus. A challenging song with words like “Many got no sleep last night was restless / some tossed and turned inside their minds with questions / like, “where was God when terror struck our town?” / He’s out where you left him before the buildings came down”. “Triumphant Outro” lets you know up front that the chorus is weak, Verbs kicks in with a voice that sounds like it’s coming over an old radio. The music is not too shabby and comes across rather militant, but the track is ultimately just filler.

Overall, the album has set some landmarks for Verbs (again, formerly Knowdaverbs) in that his production is much more consistent than previously and his style has once again evolved as every emcee should. Lyrically, he has not progressed, not an altogether bad thing since he has never been a poor lyricist however at certain times in the CD his lyrics do regress to favor the style which compliments the music side rather than the mental portion. It would seem to the observer that there was concern over reaching new audiences while maintaining the past fans, and while he will undoubtedly gain the attention of the upcoming generation and grasp his vision of reaching the youth there may be a trade-in of unsatisfied Verbs fans. What should you expect when you listen to this CD? Some nifty beats throughout, good hooks popping up here and there and definitely some nice rapping styles accompanied by fantastic messages for encouraging everyone to make good decisions with their life and destiny. I gladly give 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Track Listing:
1. Live To The Music
2. She’s Ms. Sin
3. Trippin’
4. Love Triangle
5. Pre-Paid
6. What You Rock Now
7. Feelin’ The Interlude
8. My Neighborhood
9. Run With It
10. Can You Hear Me?
11. The Before and After
12. Triumphant Outro

3.5 out of 5