Monday, June 25, 2012

Bring That Beat Back, Vol. 6

Empire Burlesque

It's that time again.  Here's the sixth installment in the monthly soiree into the current-ish Pacific Northwest music scene.  Mixed Mediums, Black Lab, Cloud Nice, Alpha P, Sota, MADK, ... This is some of the best hip hop planet Earth has to offer.

Track List:
1.  Intro - LA (Language Arts)
2.  Gimme More - Julie C
3. Walkman - Blue Sky Black Death and Nacho Picasso
4.  No Such Thing ft. Jewels  Hunter - Graves33
5.  All Natural Causes (Graves33 Mix) -Verbs, Always Pro, AlphaMC, Everybody Knows, Julie C, Open Mic Eagle, Asun, James Barrie, Graves33
6.  I Do (Pose A Threat) - Inkubiz
7.  Part Time Ventriloquists feat. Robust - Jewels Hunter
8.  Displaced Ninjas - Cheo Lopez
9.  Burgundy Bricks - Nathan Wolfe
10.  Helping Hands feat. Leland Jones, Graves33, Phreewil, Tru-ID, Nathan Wolfe - Ethiopian Tattoo Shop
11.  Cadillac Spaceships - Parker, Jarv Dee, WD4D
12.  40 Bar Dash - Steph
13.  The Water - RA Scion
14.  My Night - Yungg Bleeze
15.  Go Far - J. Pinder
16.  Drip Drop Drizzle - King Khazm

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Intricate With Intellect

Ah, the Shapeshifters, what a many-layered onion that topic is!  I feel like a masters thesis could be written about them and their interweaving ideologies.  They are a bunch of B-boys involved in all Four Elements, and they are all at times also nerdy conspiracy theorists.  They dabble in anarchy and also in religious morality.  They are the racially privileged who are also antagonists of racial privilege.  They are informed sociologists who are politically charged, and also slacker winos who are only a half-step away from being back in their mothers' basements.  They are glamorous emcees that hold down day jobs.  They are cavemen, and also futuristic robots.
They also have a prolific output, both collectively and as solo artists - but nowadays I ain't seen 'em.  I remain a hungry fan, and although some of their output remains new upon each listen (ie Gangstaz Fo Gawd, Know Future, Planet of the Shapes), other releases have received less headphone treatment and sometimes go overlooked.  Hence this review of this particular record at this particular time.  Bleek's debut solo joint went under my critical radar for years, and I'm sorry it did.  The reason being for omission is that he's not really a Shifter any more.  He has a distinct voice and flow, and had some key verses in the old Shifter recordings, but more recently he's had a bigger spot alongside other ex-Shifters Perk One, Meck and Deeskee in their group, the Ex Vandalz.  He also joined up with rapper/producer Avatar in their Speak Easy project.  Dispite his affiliation, Ex Vandalz and Speak Easy are not the same animal as Shape Shifters.  Vandalz are a crew of graf writers who also make graf-centric music; as opposed to the psychedelic sounds of the Shape Shifters - who consists of Circus (doing whatever the hell he wants) and some other guys trying to be heard above the din.  Basically, that means when I'm in a Shifter mood I need to hear Shifters - or sometimes a Circus Solo joint.  That's the only thing that will do it.  Not Ex Vandalz, not Chain Smokers, not English League, not Awol or Radio or Exist.  The Shifters as a unit are unlike anyone else, even themselves.
But something happened to them at some point.  Maybe they lost their focus, or got some focus, or something.  I feel like, as with anything Shifter related, that it had a lot to do with Circus.  He stepped back, and let everyone else have a turn.  If you listen to their last collective album, Was Here, it sounds like they're parodying themselves.  They dumb it down, go through the cliche'd subject matter of alien abduction and illuminati crap, and have their girlfriends sing the hooks.  An inspired Circus rant is not heard once throughout the entire record (unless you count "We R The Dinosaur").  Maybe he was just being nice, and wanted his bandmates to do their thing.  But even his solo record with Asmar from around the same time is a little lackluster.  His record with Odd Nosdam never materialized, and now he's saying that evil forces (involving alien persecution) are conspiring against him to keep him from finishing his newest album.  Psychotic break?  When exactly did he become schizophrenic?? 2003, maybe.
So where do you turn to when your hero dies?  Naturally, you start bugging his friends.  The Shifters cast a prolific shadow, but like I said earlier, it's hard to go for a Shifter solo joint unless you want to hear something besides the Shape Shifters.  It seems absurd to say it when talking about this act, but in order to appreciate a solo outing from these guys, you have to have an open mind - not because the solo material is so far out (Except Slanguage, that record is so far out), but because the solo material is so conventional in relation to the classic group efforts.  The Ex Vandalz are like that - they are conventional in the sense that they craft no-bullshit hip hop.  Bleek also falls into that category - and he does it really, really well.  In fact, it's great to hear him on his own.  As Circus historically overshadowed the rest of the Shifters, Perk One overshadowed the Vandalz.  His voice is loud and bombastic, vs the quieter deliveries of Bleek and Meck; and his love of graf writing kept the subject matter limited.  Here Bleek stretches out, and although he tends to rap in a soft-spoken manner and his flow can be a little rusty, he excels at poetry and conceptualism.  The subjects of graffiti and governmental conspiracies are revisited, but he also speaks out about his hip hop history, the role race can play in entertainment, and just being a b-boy in general.  It's his record, he can rap about whatever the hell he wants.  Unfortunately he takes a couple ill-advised detours (the unfortunate "Love's a Bitch" and the just plain stupid "Hub Cabs and Mud Flaps"), but those are truly the only deviations from an otherwise accomplished and continuously surprising record.  The Shape Shifters it isn't, and it shouldn't try to be.  Bleek owns his work, and it's a good record by any other standard in hip hop.
Although a solo record, Bleek doesn't shy away from collaboration.  Avatar provides the lion's share of ill beats, along with Meck, Polyhedron, Jizzm, Mascaria, and Life Rexall.  Joining him on vocals is the always welcome Meck, as well as Perk, Jizzm, Exist, Awol, Akuma, Fat Head, Biru, 2Mex, and the rest of the Shape Shifters (on "Words of Wizdumb" and the Danny Styles-remixed "Kornbizkit", a superior version to the one found on Adopted By Aliens).  Besides this record, Bleek released a record with Avatar as Speak Easy, and a full-length Ex Vandalz record as well.  But since 2009 he's been off my map.  I hope he's still making music, because I look forward to hearing more, probably more than I want to hear the next Shifter's colab.  And that means a lot coming from me, possibly the sweatiest Shifter nerd in the world.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Exposed To The Elements

Elementary Generation

2002 was a good year apparently, as I've been posting up a lot from that year.  Take this as another example then of the greatness of a decade past: the slab of wax off of EX2's sophomore full - length, Nemesis.  On their earlier releases EX2 always filled up the space in their music, with an impenetrable wall of battle raps and heavy, heavy beats.  It's hard to catch a breath listening to those first records, which is awesome, but also not for every mood.  So it was with some welcome that I heard this 12" featuring fewer emcees and more skeletal beats.  However I always tend to miss the old styles when an artist progresses, and it's no different here.  What I remember most about their old sound was the cacophony of different voices and styles fighting to be heard above relentless rhythms.  Here it's all relatively subdued, nowhere near to the point of complacency, but definitely tuned down a notch.  Syndrome shares the lead-off track with Roach the DJ, over an unmistakably and endearingly scruffy Mike Nardone beat.  WD4D returns to the Elements' producer's chair for a track with Syndrome and Gel Roc.  And Daddy Kev produces a non-album track on the B-side with solo rap by Gel.Virus and Regret also appear, but only on the hook of the first track, "Look Away".  This single is indicative of the album it promoted, as the album also had a little more space to breathe, due the diminished roster of lyrical talent and less tempestuous beats.  It's a great album, incredibly well-rounded, which is kind of a scary thing to say about the group in question.  But don't worry, EX2 are never soft.  They still kick major ass to this very day.  

Endangered Elements 12"

Monday, June 18, 2012


Stay In Detention

Awol dropped this understated 12" back in 2002.  Fat Jack produced "Trilobites" (off of the Propaganda EP), and DJ D produced "Static" from The Worker's Union project.  Clean, street, and instrumentals included.

Trilobites/Static 12"

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Planet Rock

2012 Overture

1999 wax from Los Shape Shiftaz.  Wonderful cover art, and dope songs too.  I've said before that I really go for the rougher sound of the earlier recordings found on Planet of the Shapes and Know Future, but you can't really compare that stuff with this.  The same players may be present, but here they came together to make straight ahead hip hop, whereas Planet and Know Future are more like experimental noise collages.  Even Circus reigns in somewhat here, with a cleaned-up and truncated "Mos Eisley".  Five tracks deep, with instrumentals for "Prevail" and "Reiterate".  

Planet Rock 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Exagerating MC and DJ 100%

All That Glitters Is Gold In The Litter

From 2000, the 12" off of my favorite Awol release, Four Eyed Mortalz.  This one has the classic Jizzm-produced "Permanent Paradice" plus instrumental on the A-side, and the non-album track "Motermouth" and instrumental on the B-side.  Also included are three of the abstract ESP - produced tracks from the album, "Diablos Y Brujas", "Exagerating MC and DJ 100%", and "Patterns Instruments Dreams of Nightmares".  

Permanent Paradice

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

KSHT Radio - The Northwest Edition

Specs delivers his latest set, and it's one of the greatest audio documents on the NW hip hop scene that I've ever had the pleasure of hearing.  Shit you've never heard...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Request... Dancing With Skeletons

All About The Music

Folks have been requesting this one, so why the hell not?  Patrick Nagel, Xololanxinxo, Tommy V, Ceschi and David Ramos (all players who never quite fit the usual conventions of hip hop) join up on a collection of tracks that also never quite fit the usual conventions of hip hop.  If you know these guys then you know that the only thing expected is the unexpected.  Joining them on this CDR release are Afterlifers Ridd?, Bus Driver, and 2Mex; 'Shifters Circus, Awol, Exist, and Life Rexall, and Acey, Lord Zen, and PSC.  

Dancing With Skeletons

Edit:  For other releases, as well as this one, check out my man the Thirdman!