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The Hottest in Charge 19: A Letter From Rap Nerd Leeb.

 

 

  When Blades and Bars was created, the initial mission statement was to give a platform to artists from New Jersey and the surrounding areas. Never in our wildest dreams did we believe that the outcome would be a platform that is rapidly growing into something that is going to take the world by storm. From one meeting in a small lounge, founding members AJ and Rap Nerd Leeb devised a plan that would take months to come into fruition. However once the third and final member Fonz joined the crew, the vision became solidified and we were all off to the races.

     Numerous recordings and on the spot interviews we conducted with various artists,athletes, and overall movers and shakers helped to prepare and mold us. These interactions would eventually evolve into our first annual “Hottest In Charge” photoshoot and subsequent cover with a few of the artists that we worked with to this point. In what felt like a seamless experience, every artist was very giving of their time to help bring our vision to life. Without them, our vision would have been nothing more than a notion or an unattainable dream.

 

     Each artist chosen for the cover was born from actual relationships that were fostered between the platform and all that was involved. They ALL brought something different to the table and the energy that was present created something that was uniquely dynamic. As stated earlier, the main purpose was to showcase the different sounds of New Jersey and the surrounding areas. It is truly a melting pot of styles and aesthetics that could only have been made possible with the confidence, understanding, and most importantly faith in the bigger picture.

     On behalf of the Blades and Bars crew, we would like to personally thank the following:

 

Felix Natal Jr.

Meghan Gochin

Dre Skuffs

Cony

J Whoody

J.Liu

J1DA

Laady J

Unicorn 151

Daidough

Apollo Rai

Dyce Payso

Gucci Boy Barz

 

     Without any of you, We would not be possible. The rising tide raises ALL ships. Thank You.

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For Ermias Joseph Asghedom…And Me

nipsey hero

 

  Ermias Joseph Asghedom (August 15, 1985 – March 31, 2019), known professionally as Nipsey Hussle (often stylized as Nipsey Hu$$le), was an American rapper, entrepreneur, and community activist. These are the first words you see when you type in his name on Wikipedia, or a google search with Wikipedia being the first link you see most times. No matter how many times I’ve read those first words, I’m still not fully comfortable with seeing his date of passing. Of course in this life, death is the only real constant that we have, but it doesn’t make it any easier to cope with.

      As a rapper, Nipsey made music that was most times inspirational to me and had been for quite some time. My earliest memory of that inspiration came at a random moment in 2013 on the “Crenshaw” mixtape. It was towards the end of the track “Face the World” when he said:

 

“Regardless what you into,

Regardless what you been through,

I feel like I got to tell you, you got something to contribute.”

 

As the song faded out, the words “something to contribute” purposefully echoed in the distance as the instrumental played on to completion. It was in that instance that I realized that even though I had been listening to him for a while at that point, That was the first time I actually HEARD him. It was a liberating experience.

     I’ve always had this way about myself in which I was drawn to MC’s that were either my age directly or in my immediate age range. It just something about being born between the years of 83 to 87 that spoke to a collective experience that many born outside of that range simply wouldn’t understand fully. We are the generation that is arguably the first “Hip-Hop” Generation and it shows in every facet of the genre. There  was a special kinship that artist and fan had developed which made Nipsey’s music powerful and relatable.

     As an entrepreneur, Nipsey Hussle was leading by example in that regard. His early “All Money In, No Money Out” initiative etched out a blueprint that spoke to ownership of one’s own work and how ownership could lead to overall financial empowerment. It also spoke to keeping the dollar in our communities by way of reinvesting. When an idea makes sense and there is actual movement behind it, it won’t be long before other investors recognize the good and want to become a part of the solution. This entrepreneurial spirit would then lead Nipsey to other and in some eyes more radical endeavors.

     Those endeavors would speak to the remainder of Nipsey’s life as an activist. Buying the property on which The Marathon Store stood, it showed the people of the community of Creshshaw that it was indeed possible to come from an area that was seen as downtrodden and rise from those circumstances to create and be more. Realizing that his community was also an under served area for education and resources,a communal work space known as Vector 90 was born. The intent of Vector 90 was to introduce children and young creatives to S.T.E.M. programs which would further empower and strengthen all who was involved. 

     Lastly, Nipsey Hussle was going to be involved in talks with the LAPD and local gangs to find a solution to and ultimately quell racial tensions and gang violence. This meeting would have been monumental if it came to fruition because in my eyes it would have brought him full circle in his quest to make real change in the community that he grew up in and was very much still a part of.

     August 15th would have been Nipsey Hussle’s 34th birthday and to say all that he accomplished in that period of time is nothing short of remarkable is a severe understatement. The fact that these ideas were mere notions 10 years ago proved more than inspirational for someone like me. To be able to chronicle his rise and relate it to my own life is something that I for one will hold on to for years to come. Following the words and messages that he left behind, it’s clear to me now more than ever that nothing is impossible or out of reach. All we have to do is to pace ourselves. Happy Birthday Nipsey, The Marathon Continues….

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The Blacker the Milk

       Curtis Eugene Cross best known as “Black Milk” is arguably one of the best and most prolific Producers/Rappers in the game today. You would be hard pressed to find another artist of his caliber with the same amount of output and if you can, it’s a very short list. With a career spanning roughly 15 years at this point, listening to his sound progress over that time has been nothing short of remarkable. From his early days of sampling and looping soul breaks, Black has seemingly reinvented himself sound wise and I’m sure personally every year he’s been active in Hip-Hop.

     Admittedly, I was a bit late to the party because I didn’t know who he was until about 2007 when he released his 2nd full length LP “Popular Demand”. That year was particularly difficult for me because I had just purchased my first iPod and was in the middle of transitioning from physical media to MP3s. To be frank, I was a mess. I was literally adding tons of songs to my iTunes Library on a Home PC while still reading liner notes from the new CD’s that I was still purchasing.

    The CD in question that I was listening to was “Detroit Deli” by Slum Village. While painstakingly waiting for all those songs to Upload to my library in bulk, I found myself reading the liner notes of the album and began to think to myself, Who in the world is BR Gunna?! I had to restart my PC because it was 6 or 7 years old at the time so the minute I opened up a new window it would freeze. At any rate once it reloaded, I did a Google search on who he was, foolishly assuming that it was one person. Much to my surprise it was a Duo consisting of Young RJ and Black Milk. Further research from that point led me to Popular Demand and two of his earlier works “Broken Wax” and “Sound of the City Vol. 1”

     His sound immediately cut through as I was entrenched in the dirty drum patterns and perfectly imperfect soul sample chops on all three of those projects. It was in these moments that I became a fan of Black Milk. In the subsequent years, he would go on to be even more prolific by dropping four straight sonic masterpieces. On top of the solo efforts, he sprinkled in side projects that were equally great sonically and lyrically. His prodigious output during the time frame of 2008 through 2014 only solidified my fandom.

     It was in those years including 2008 where he would go on to release the following:

Tronic-2008

Caltroit (with Bishop Lamont)-2008

The Set Up (with Fat Ray)-2008

The Preface (with Elzhi)-2008

Album of the Year-2010

Random Axe(with Sean Price and Guilty Simpson)-2011

Black and Brown (with Danny Brown)-2011

No Poison, No Paradise-2013

Burning Stones (with Mel)-2013

If There’s a Hell Below-2014

Glitches in the Break-2014

    In the present day I still run and tell anyone who will listen to me that Black is the truth at producing AND rhyming. I knew back in 2007 that he would be lauded in the future because there would be thousands of people just like me that would soon discover his music for themselves and undoubtedly share the same feeling I felt way back when. In recent history Black Milk has gone on to release four more projects since 2016 with 2019’s “DiVe EP” being his most recent solo effort. In ending, I believe it’s safe to say that Curtis Eugene Cross will continue on his path of reinventing his sound while simultaneously staying true to his core. Black Milk is an unstoppable force AND an immovable object.

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J1da-Tc5:Free from the Past(Album Review)

Image result for J.1.Da Tc5: Free from the Past

     The past few days have really gave new meaning to the term “Dog Days of Summer”. With temperatures reaching triple digits in some areas, the clear objective was to stay hydrated as much as possible. I know you’re probably asking me “Leeb, what does the weather have to do with J1da’s latest project Tc5: Free From the past?” I admit I am a way better journalist than meteorologist but trust me it makes sense in my mind. Follow me for a bit.

     The projects opens with the poignant “Love From my Brother” intro. I don’t have to do much in the way of explaining the intro because these are words from the man himself. It is a message of brotherly love and light and is a welcome departure from normal music driven introductions. It feels as if he is pulling back the veil and letting us into his world.

     The album’s official opener is the piano laden thumper “You Decide”. J1da wasted no time taking rappers to task on how he feels about them. It’s normal braggadocio rap but with his vocal tone and his lyrical assuredness, it comes across as a cool confidence and you better believe he will not be shaken.

     “Free” offers much of the same in terms of confidence but don’t mistake that for “swag rapping”. Once you bust down the lines, he along with Solis drop gem after gem about mental health and the stressors of living in this world. Sinai Rose adds sweet song vocals to the song which rounds out the track nicely.

     “Tonite” is the third straight thumper and pairs J1da with the vicious Laady J. Both prove that they are lyrically sharp and will be a hard out for any poor souls that dare to try and out rap them. Their respective tones complement each other superbly and this song in particular offers much replay value. I found myself running this back a few times.

     “Eye X3” is ridiculous!  The sense of urgency on the initial verse is palpable as the beat rises like a roller coaster and as soon as it creeps to the top, the beat switches and J goes off on a tear. His voice cuts through the low growl of the 808s as he gives us an unrelenting  performance…AND THENNNN! The beat switches again to a much more jubilant melody. J is still menacing on the track though and it proves for a very enjoyable listen. Much props to the producer, the third beat is a sample I recognized from Talib Kweli’s “Everything Man” off his Eardrum LP. Dope.

     “Upside Man (Interlude)” is where J takes his gloves off and proclaims his dominance over the rap game. I for one am here for it because Rap by and large is competitive. So if you’re rapping and you don’t feel like you’re the best at any given moment, there is absolutely no reason to rap, ever. My only gripe is the length of the song. I admit that I’m greedy but I wanted two more verses to add to the fire that he was already spewing.

     “Like That” is a tonal switch which is at the halfway point of the project. Normally I skip the obligatory “girl track” but there is something about this one that is different. The beat is supremely infectious and J1da wastes no time professing his love for the lady in life. This song feels like a calm summer night with a perfect temperature and equally perfect breeze, just perfect.

     “Keys from Samad” is another audio Skit, with Samad Savage. It’s a minute worth of jewels that I won’t tell you how to interpret as it is pretty straight forward with the message that he is conveying. You just have to listen for yourself and take the gems that resonate with you.

     “Self Therapy” carries the same energy as the previous skit but adds more flare to it with brassy horns and and crispy drums. I am trying to refrain from spewing nothing but superlatives but listen, this track is fire and I know that I am not doing it justice by saying that. Another short track grates my nerves a bit but I have to understand that sometimes brevity is best.

     “Prove It” is for all intents and purposes the sequel to the “Like That”, I say sequel because it offers the flip side to an otherwise blossoming situation. It has J stepping out of his comfort zone flow wise here but it works. The urgency in his voice this time speaks to the potential loss of said love interest. Blaze the Rebel comes through with the assist on the track and offers his perspective. Songs like this always work best when both artists are on the same wavelength artistically. The cohesion is on full display here.

     “Just Right”- Is the polar opposite of the previous track. It’s not jarring to my ears because I am a fan of contrast but I can see how it be off putting to some listeners. It’s a good song but its doesn’t necessarily fit the tone of this project as a whole. 

     “Sober”-  Brings the familiar feel of the project back. J and Brickside Leem trade rapid fire flows and an awesome hook about the ills of living in an environment that is less than favorable  and how some people will self medicate to numb the pain. Great song.

     “Great” closes the album out with, J1da actualizing his true potential on the mic. Declaring that he knows that he’s great means more to who he is as a man than an MC. You can see it from both angles depending on your perspective and overall mood in that moment. Awesome closer.

     In ending, “Tc5:Free from the Past”  is a refreshing listen. There wasn’t a bar wasted on any song, and you will leave this project with a sense of clarity. Reviewing the album was very much akin to being in triple digit degree weather for the majority of your day and returning home to the tallest glass of water, iced tea or lemonade. This album is every bit of the thirst quencher that I’m saying it is. Don’t believe me, go ahead and press play then get back to me, I’ll be here, I promise.

Chad B-Never Stepped On (Album Review)

     When listening to Chad B’s music, one would be hard pressed to actually describe what his actual sound or style is if you weren’t naturally familiar with him. If you’ve been following him since the “Hit It” days then you would you would probably think that his artistry was simply based on “club hits” and that there was no actual depth to his overall message. In the six years since then, Chad B has managed to create a brand for himself that has allowed him to remain relevant and not placed in a box. The music itself is but one avenue that you can choose to go down and while you’re there, I’m sure you’ll stop at the various stores with different merchandise.

    With his most recent offering “Never Stepped On”, Chad B peels back a layer or two and lets the listener in on his life. The title track alone paints a picture so vivid, that it almost feels criminal to listen. To be that transparent on the opener immediately let me know that as an artist he is willing to bare his soul and be as unrepentant with his vision as possible.

    “Make It” continues the energy of the opener and brings you closer into his world and offers a direct perspective of a man who has seen it all and been through that much more. After one listen, I knew that Chad B as an artist has something to prove and wouldn’t stop at nothing to make you feel and understand. It’s truly a rare quality that not every artist possesses. You can hear the urgency and hunger in his voice with each bar, and it’s that relentlessness that makes you want to root for him on each track.

    As I continued to listen I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with some of the features on his project. Personal favorites like Moneybagg Yo and 03 Greedo show up on “Money Bag” and “Mafia” respectively and add a certain flare to both songs. Both artists came with verses that were true to them and allowed Chad to do what he does best and that’s gliding effortlessly on the track. Even without those particular, both songs would have easily still been in rotation. It’s pretty evident that with the other features on this album, Chad B is more than comfortable in any situation that requires the collaborative effort, another rare quality.

    I’ll be honest, even though this is not Chad’s first offering in terms of music, listening to the project numerous times, it definitely gave me the feeling of a debut album. The tales of pain, struggle, and triumph are the ingredients found throughout this project. He was able to craft a sound that was true to him as an artist and was certainly palatable to the listener. This is not rap by the numbers music. It’s music that is direct, poignant, and offers a true glimpse of what Chad B has to offer. Do yourself a favor and check out “Never Stepped On” and hear what a true underdog story sounds like.

 

 

 

Cony-Right Now (Album Review)

 

 

Cony is taking the world by storm, one set of ears at a time. Initially, I was a bit skeptical because I am not the biggest R&B fan around, but I understand talent, I understand the “IT” factor and when I tell you this young man has both in spades, it almost feels like I’m doing him a disservice. If you’re fortunate enough to sit down and chop it up with him, you’ll understand what I mean. His energy leaps at you and whatever mood you’re in is certain to change for the better when he’s around. With all that being said, I was STILL a bit skeptical because I wasn’t entirely sure if he would be able to successfully inject his personality into the music. As great of a person he is, if it didn’t equate into great music, it would all be for naught.

 

“Right Now” doesn’t waste any time, doubling as the the album’s namesake and opener, it’s doubly important that his introduction to the listening public was a declaration stating “Hi, this is who I am and this where I’m about to take you, come take this ride with me.” And to that I say, mission accomplished.

 

“Cater To You” is exactly what you would expect it’s about. There isn’t much more you can say to a man that’s bent on making sure his woman is taken care on all fronts. The production is sultry with crunchy but subtle guitar licks and makes for an enjoyable listen. I’m not mad at it.

 

“Some Type Of Way” is a sequel to the previous track. In terms of content, it’s essentially “Round 2”. While continuing to cater to your woman or partner ,it’s paramount that you make them feel that in that moment, they are all that matters. It really does go a long way, take my word for it. Shout to Fly for the feature. It added another layer to the track, because features are important.

 

“Party” is a tonal shift in the album. Don’t get me wrong it’s a welcome change, opting to trade in the crooning for bars, the infectious energy of this track is what is needed in your favorite hookah spot or industry event. It has a glossy feel and vibe to it. This track has definite replay value for those settings that  I mentioned earlier and should be in every DJ’s setlist. In other words, you need this and Yeezy in your Serato.

 

“REGULA”  is my favorite track on the project so I’m going to be totally, unequivocally, unabashedly biased here. This track SLAPS. What that means is that I turned this track up to my highest possible volume and ran it back a few times. My ONLY gripe is the actual length of the track. Clocking in at just under 2:40, this type of vibe deserved to be longer, but I understand the attention span of the listener isn’t what it used to be. I just have to accept that fact.

 

“Better” continues the vibe that I’m more accustomed to with today’s current climate of R&B. The production is laced with his melodies and the assist from BigSteph. It’s the perfect mix of melodic rap and crooning that makes this song a winner in my eyes.

 

“Bottles” returns to the earlier vibe of the first three tracks in terms of tone. Again it’s a change that is welcome as it illustrates the many sides of Cony, Fly and Quan. The content isn’t breaking new ground but that doesn’t mean it’s not done in a way that makes it feel current. You cannot be mad at it.

 

“Losing You” has a classic vibe to it. This is one of those songs that if there was a visual for it, you would see on “Midnight Love”  Yes, im THAT OLD. BigSteph returns with another feature and the duo make a solid pairing. Those subtle guitar licks return once again, I swear no R&B is complete without them, when you hear this you understand what I mean.

 

“Whine Slow” closes the album out on a upbeat note with a pure island vibe. Island vibe meaning that it’s raunchy. It doesn’t detract from the song at all as it’s what’s expected when you hear a song like this. I fully expect to see people waving their respective country’s flags when this song comes on. It would be extremely hard not to.

 

In ending Cony’s “Right Now” is a project that exceeded my expectations. I came into it thinking that it would be just another run of the mill project from a young artist who had not fully found their voice yet within their artistry. Although the album is short in nature (clocking in at 31:52) it doesn’t feel rushed in the least. There is something for everyone here if they are looking for a certain vibe which is essentially the key word for this entire review. I’m looking forward to hearing what else Cony has in store in for us. His ceiling is high enough that the key sky may be too close to limit him. Great Job

Tyler The Creator- IGOR (Album Review)

Igor_-_Tyler,_the_Creator.jpg (316×316)

Tyler Gregory Okonma otherwise known as “Tyler, the Creator” is surely living up to his Nom de plume. Ever since “Bastard” dropped back in 2009, each solo outing since then has been pushing the envelope and has been gaining fans with each subsequent release.  With “Flower Boy” being his most palatable release to date for pure Hip-Hop fans, many of them began to clamor for his subsequent projects to see if he would push the boundaries once more or give a more traditional offering. By the looks of things it seems as if Tyler went FULL alternative hip-hop with his latest offering “IGOR”.

The album starts off with an “opening credits” of sorts with “IGOR’S THEME”. A heavy synth, heavy bass, heavy percussion instrumental that when you listen could absolutely envision the names of  popular actors scrolling across the screen as you begin to binge watch season one of a new series on whichever streaming service you use. Words float in and out of the track in the form of refrains but it doesn’t detract from the overall instrumental. Oh and if you were wondering who all showed up on the track, yes that is Lil Uzi Vert with the assist to Tyler. Amazing opener.

“EARFQUAKE” the album’s proper first song is a musical roller coaster. There are many peaks and valleys as voices cascade in and out of another synth heavy instrumental.  Charlie Wilson, Playboi Carti and Jessy Wilson continue the trend of uncredited collaborations but it is an added surprise. This track shows our main protagonist Igor has become smitten with the idea of courting his love interest.

“I THINK” is a funky late 80’s reminiscent track that pairs Igor with Solange as they  whimsically dance throughout the song and ponder if “they think they are falling in love”  throwing all apprehension to the wind while declaring that  “they think this is for real.” Here’s to fresh book smell love.

“RUNNING OUT OF TIME” is minimalist at best in terms of the the initial instrumentation.  It’s merely a build up though because things kick into gear through the midway point of the track as we are treated to a sonic blast of music but only enough to to whet one’s appetite as it goes back to being sparse. Jerrod Carmichael pops up with some more uncredited dialog sending you directly into the next track.

“New Magic Wand”  has a frenetic pace but it flows greatly with the distortion effect that is on Tyler’s oops I mean Igor’s voice. It seems as if Igor is beginning to have reservations of his new found love. He doesn’t understand why he can’t be with or see her 100% of the time as opposed to whenever she can. It’s high key obsessive but when it’s that new book smell love or infatuation things can get a bit blurry. Santogold pops up as the love interest in question and it drives the song to a fitting conclusion.

“A BOY IS A GUN” is thematically brilliant, production wise its very reminiscent of  Mid-era Kanye, the influence is undeniable. Narrative wise it appears that Igor and his love interest are in the throws of a relationship that is teetering on the brink of break-up.  Petty arguments, past lovers popping up. It’s all bad, words are said, you know how it goes.

“PUPPET”  is the regret portion of the break up. You know the part of the relationship when you’re the first one to break and contact the other person first. Igor is at that point where he wants her back but doesn’t know how to correctly convey those feelings. With Kanye West playing playing the role of his conscious it’s about to be a 808’s and heartbreak kind of evening for the kid. Jerrod Carmichael sweeps back in as the voice of reason, essentially telling Igor to come to his senses.

“WHAT’S GOOD”  has Igor getting his “swag back” so to speak as he speeds off into the sunset after realizing that it’s truly over with him and his lady. In true bravo fashion, he spends the entire track being tough and boastful and ends up getting into a car accident.

“GONE GONE/THANK YOU” is the part of the grief  where Igor has to come to terms with the fact that they are truly no good for one another and must make peace with what was and what ultimately will never be. Although it is a “L” for him emotionally, there is a lesson learned.

“I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE” is the final part of the closure that Igor is searching for and seems to have found. He realizes that yes it is okay to move on as there are definitely, other fish in the sea. It’s best to gather oneself, regroup, retool, and keep it pushing, its ok to love again in the future when the time is right. Right?

“ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” Igor still wants to still be friends with the girl that broke his heart. Again this is a classic post break-up maneuver.  Unless its an amicable split, I do not recommend this. I repeat Do Not Do This, It usually doesn’t end well for any parties involved. If it was a clean break, consider that a blessing and move on.

In ending, “IGOR” as an album was a very enjoyable listen. As as a concept album the narrative stretched across two or three acts depending on how you want to look it at it.  It feel like it’s a spiritual precursor to 808’s and Heartbreak while simultaneously being a successor. The album ultimately achieves its overall mission of adding context to the stages of  relationships. It’s by no means a situation that everyone goes through or want to admit to going through but I’m sure at some point, we’ve all been there and we can all relate. Well done Tyler.