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.

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….

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.

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.

 

 

 

The Album Of The Year?

AOTYS

 

In the land of hot takes and hyperboles ,being a person armed with nothing but your opinion has never been more fruitful. To makes matters worse 2018 also brought us an insane amount of music to digest, process, and give an honest and well thought out description of what and more importantly WHY we liked it. Since the first Friday of 2018 we were completely inundated with tons of music to sift through. Although it was an extremely daunting task, it was not impossible.

When someone proclaimed **Insert your favorite album of the week here**  was the Album of the year on January 18th, I knew this year was going to be something that was unlike anything that we’ve ever seen or heard. Granted  2018 was the 20 year anniversary of quite arguably the last golden era of modern-day Hip-Hop. Every region of the country dropped classic material and has clearly stood the test of time, nostalgia aside it was just great music. 20 years later and the standard that was set still stands.

It was that narrative alone that stayed with me the entire year as I listened to each album. As a music lover, I felt it was my duty to compare what some called “instant classics” to actual classics and that was the metric by which I  ranked many of the albums you have seen the past month. Choosing the Top 25 of 2018 was by far the hardest time I’ve ever had since I started doing official rankings many years ago. (6 years if you’re a real one and have been following me since then)

When I started listening to Pusha T’s “Daytona” I was completely blown away.  Yes, I know Push has made a career out of “Couture Coke Raps” BUT there are many rappers from his generation that if they dropped this same album it would have sounded antiquated and would have been yanked on off the stage and Meme’d to death. This album albeit SEVEN DAMN SONGS felt like it was much more than its Sub 25 minute run-time would have let on. What soured the experience for me was that I don’t feel the album needed all the Drake controversy as the anchor in which this project was bound by.  Adidon aside, Kanye West aside…Daytona was what the game had been missing but at what cost?

I’d be a Blueface..my bad Bold face liar if I told you I was not heavily anticipating Royce Da 5’9’s “Book of Ryan”. I felt like this would be the definitive Royce album. All the witty puns, double entendres , rappity rap lyrics that I could muster and it was there in abundance. So what’s the problem Leeb? I thought you were all about the rappity rap, lyrical ,miracle, spiritual ,centrifugal bars that you always beat everyone over the head with. Why isn’t this your Album of the year?. The answer…is quite Layered. What I mean by that is that Book of Ryan WOULD HAVE been the album of the year IF he didn’t drop “Layers” in 2016…its essentially the same album in terms of concept as HE explained it.

Many of you don’t want to say it aloud or even accept it, But Black Thought is arguably THE BEST RAPPER TO EVER TOUCH A MIC. listening to him spit is literally like watching Bruce Lee practice with nunchucks..its breath taking, exhilarating and awe-inspiring. Listening to Black thought forced me to put the pen down on many occasions and say “I can’t do that”. He is a true Master of the art form and Both “Streams of Thought Vol. 1 and 2” are a living testament to the true fact that I can’t rap like Black Thought and you can’t either.

January 20th, 2015 an album called “Tetsuo and Youth” was released to the general listening audience. Within that album lied an 8-minute operatic Opus known as “Mural” Any self-respecting fan of Hip-Hop that heard that track could not have with all honestly say that it was not the best song of that year and arguably of all time, if we’re talking pure lyrics. The bar was set  and I began to wonder if it would ever be topped as many MC’s in the 3 years since tried but ultimately fell short. I even questioned if the one who penned Tetsuo would even top it considering his follow-up was so “light”.

September 21st, 2018 an album was released to the general listening audience. Within that album, contained a story about a handful of West Africans that would be known as “The Long Chains”. The Long Chains were a group of captives that dove to their supposed deaths than to endure a life time of bondage and pain. I say supposed deaths because The Long Chains did not perish, they instead survived and opted to live underwater and go about doing the work of sinking slave ships and giving the newly freed captives the choice of returning back to their respective homelands or stay in the sea to continue to free others from impending bondage.

Concepts like this don’t just happen. Concepts like this are born.This is myth making, this is world building, This is George Lucas creating Star Wars. This is Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and the rest of the Marvel minds that created the pantheon of modern-day Heroes. The Myth of The Long Chains came from one man, one mind, a brilliant mind…The Mind of Wasalu Muhammad Jaco.

…….Lupe Fiasco’s “Drogas Wave” is The Best Album of 2018

Meek Mill-Championships (Album Review)

220px-Meek_Mill_–_Championships
cham·pi·on
/ˈCHampēən/
noun
  1. a person who has defeated or surpassed all rivals in a competition.
    synonyms: winnertitleholder, defending champion, gold medalist, titlistrecord holder.

    2. a person who fights or argues for a cause or on behalf of someone else
    synonyms: advocateproponentpromotersupporterdefender, upholder, backerexponent.

    When I think of the word “Champion” these are the definitions that first come to my mind. When this word is applied to Meek Mill and his latest offering “Championships” you can see how both definitions could apply. We as a Hip-Hop community have watched Meek grow in a literal and figurative sense. From “Dreams and Nightmares”, his stellar “DreamChasers” series and 2017’s “Wins and Losses”, Meek’s fourth solo effort seems to be a triumphant reflection of ALL of those experiences since 2011 when the first DreamChaser was released.

    By this time, if you don’t expect “The Intro” of any Meek Mill album to be something that is almost indescribable, then there is no reason to read this review any further honestly. The album begins with a haunting Phil Collins sample which is now synonymous with Hip-Hop because DMX used it 20 years earlier on his debut. It was a nice nod from Meek and I feel that it was definitely for the Hop-Hop historians out there. Awesome opener.

    “Trauma” doubles down on the homage. It’s instantly recognizable as Mobb Deep’s “Get Away” which is ALSO the second track on their “Infamy” album. I don’t believe that was coincidental in the slightest. Meek takes the track in a different direction however as he raps about the trappings of prison ,the oft-corrupt judicial system and how that can affect your psyche when living in the inner-city or densely populated areas.

    The third track “Uptown Vibes”  is so contrasting in tone that is takes me out of the album almost immediately, its a decent enough track as its a uptempo and bouncy SINGLE, but with such heavy topic matter from the previous two tracks it just feels out of place to me, the first misstep of the album.

    “On Me” keeps with the same energy as Uptown, its pretty forgetful though even with the Cardi B verse which is the honestly the only highlight of that track. Don’t feel bad if you feel the urge to skip this one its ok.

    “What’s Free” sends us back to the mood and feeling of the first two tracks and at this point I’m beginning to get annoyed. What album is this really? Are we sitting with this album and being reflective or are we turning up and celebrating? Don’t get me wrong we can do both because Balance but it has to be sequenced correctly. Meek continues with the sample homage as he, Ross and Jay-Z all takes turns tearing the “What’s Beef” track to shreds so whatever reservations I may have had about the early sequencing of the album has subsided for now.

    “Respect The Game” relies heavily on the essence of  “Dead Presidents II” which I also believe was by design considering Jay was on the previous track. When you listen to the track you can hear that Meek was really doing an updated version of the original and no one can be mad at that. I’m back on board now.

    Just as I was getting immersed into the album again, I’m taken out of it when “Splash Warning” starts. I’m normally here for all things Future but as this track follows two damn near perfect tracks, it pales in comparison and should have been paired with Uptown Vibes and On Me, not sandwiched in between The previous tracks and “Championships” which is so soulful that I’m actually upset that Splash Warning was even included.

    “Going Bad” IS NOT the reunion track from Meek and Drake that I wanted.  Meek sounded uninspired with the lazy flow and Drake outshines him period. I feel like Drake should have took more of  risk lyrically and let us in on some more personal dealings if he was on the previous track.

    “Almost Slipped” is cringe-worthy at best. Meek’s vocal tone is not suited for Auto-Tune and the entire track is drenched in the effect. Simply put it’s not sonically cohesive.

    “Tic Tac Toe” is a much better song by comparison. Subject matter is much to be desired but for better or worse its a banger…Generic…but a banger nonetheless. Kodak was sorely underused on the track, he deserved a verse. The type of track is better suited for Gunna or Lil Baby.

    “24/7” is a groove or as the kids say, a Bop. The production is crisp with the Beyonce vocal samples from “Me, Myself And I” weaved into the beat. The track is damn near perfection, with the addition of Ella Mai, this is a definite push for radio play and playlist placements, Here’s hoping Jacqueeeeeees doesn’t do a remix.

    “Oodles O’ Noodles Babies” brings it back to the original mood and tone of the album which bothers me. The songs that precede it don’t mesh with this song and should have been placed with the upper half of the album. The sequencing issues are apparently here to stay.

    “Pay You Back” feels like a bonus track, I can honestly say that I don’t know where this song fits anywhere on the albums spectrum. The tone goes from reflection to unapologetic braggadocio and I don’t see any room for “Hard Bars”.

    “100 Summers” is better use of Auto-Tune but its still a hard listen. The subject matter is relatable as it deals with loss, regrets, and survivors remorse. It’s the vulnerable aspect of the track that makes its listenable but that’t about it.

    “Wit The Shits” is a forgettable strip club anthem, I’m sure its serving a particular section of listeners but it’s just not for me and I’m okay with that.

    “Stuck In My Ways” is another Bonus Track addition, Although it fits the theme of all the songs with this similar tone on this album, it just comes off and repetitive and unoriginal especially when “Dangerous” is just as repetitive and could easily replace any of the aforementioned tracks.

    “Cold Hearted II”- Is the album’s closer and at this point I’m upset.  The previous three songs do not fit with this track. The content contained here is poignant and real and I’m left feeling hollow. This track could have easily followed Oodles O’ Noodles Babies and would have wrapped up the album nicely.

     

    This is a tale of two albums. There are certain tracks and belong together while others seem so out of place that as whole its comes off as disjointed. Depending on your preference there are 10 songs that are undeniable while the other 9 are serviceable but wont do much to warrant a “Classic” rating.  With this being his fourth album I can see the glimpses of growth but not enough to call it a re-brand or image overhaul. It is the same Meek Mill with some socially conscious and contemplative verses. The sequencing and overall bloated feel of the entire project is what hold it back for me. A more concise effort with none of the filler would made this a much more enjoyable listen. Maybe DreamChasers 5 will be the album I’m waiting to hear.

 

Final Grade-C+